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TILL NOW beloni 

the few classics of fill 

re. It was referred to, ai 

ne to be considered as, the 

dents' bible'; and this new 

has been awaited with ex- 

il interest by all students of 

ma. 

original edition in 1930 
-led film history from its b< 
\ingr, to 1929. 

rhe second edition, revised and 
iitiy enlarged, took the survey up 
uy k [\ a whole new part The Film 
rcE Then being added by Richard 
i.frth, Curator of the Museum of 

Idem Art Film Library, under 
1 Rotha's editorship. Among the 
5. illustrations many were unique. 

r '"-- third edition contains all the 

aterial of the second edition 

with a new Epilogue, which 

analysis of recent trends 

nal cinema and of films 

uring the last decade. 

till now is a book 

all serious filmgoers as 

critics, technicians, his- 

ers of films, because 

contribution to film 

also an analysis of 

film aesthetics. The 

itic, Miss Dilys Pow- 

1 HE FILM TILL N< 

L 't do without"' 





inions see back flap 



\ 



, .....,.,.....,, 



£ 



37417 NilesBlvd SV/f 510-494-1411 

Fremont, CA 94536 www.nilesfilmmuseum.org 



Scanned from the collections of 
Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum 



Coordinated by the 
Media History Digital Library 
www.mediahistoryproject.org 



Funded by a donation from 
Jeff Joseph 



by the same author 

CELLULOID: THE FILM TODAY (1931) 

DOCUMENTARY FILM 
(1936, 1939, and with Richard Griffith and Sinclair Road, 1952) 

MOVIE PARADE 
( 1 936, and with Roger Manvell, 1 950) 

ROTHA ON THE FILM (1958) 

WORLD OF PLENTY 

(book of the film, 1945) 

PORTRAIT OF A FLYING YORKSHIREMAN 
(the letters of Eric Knight to Paul Rotha, 1 952) 

Editor of TELEVISION IN THE MAKING (1956) 



Digitized by the Internet Archive 

in 2012 with funding from 

Media History Digital Library 



http://archive.org/details/filmtillnowOOroth 




Robert J. Flaherty and Helen Van Dongen editing Louisiana Story, at Abbeville, La., U.S \ 
1946-48 (photograph by Eagle) 




"Slag ffttBi 



A SURVEY OF WORLD CINEMA 



by 



PAUL ROTHA 



With an additional section by 
RICHARD GRIFFITH 



TWAYNE PUBLISHERS, INC. 
NEW YORK 



TWAYNE PUBLISHERS INC. 
31 Union Square West New York 3 NY 



revised and enlarged edition 1949 

second edition 1951 

third edition (revised and enlarged) 1 960 

© Paul Rotha 1949, 1951, 1960 

A BRITISH FILM ACADEMY RECOMMENDATION 



Made and printed in Great Britain by 

Percy Lund, Humphries & Co Ltd 

London and Bradford 



CONTENTS 

PAGE 

Preface to New Edition 15 

Acknowledgements 61 

PART ONE 
THE ACTUAL 

I. The Development of the Film 67 

II. The Various Forms of Cinema 113 

III. The American Film 126 

IV. The American Film (continued) 148 
V. The American Film (concluded) 189 

VI. The Soviet Film 217 

VII. The German Film 252 

VIII. The French Film 293 

IX. The British Film 313 

X. Films from Other Countries 323 

PART TWO 
THE THEORETICAL 

1. The Aim of the Film in General and in 

Particular 329 

II. The Preconception of Dramatic Content by 

Scenario Organisation 343 

III. The Methods of Expression of Dramatic- 
Content by Film Construction 360 

(I) The Process of the Visual 

Cinema 361 

(II) The Visual and the Audible 

Cinema 403 



CONTENTS 

PART THREE 
THE FILM SINCE THEN 

PAGE 

Introduction 415 

I. The American Film 1929-48 428 

(1) Subject and Themes 428 

(11 ) Directors, Writers and Pro- 
ducers 469 
(111) Three Independents : Chaplin, 

Disney, Flaherty 509 

II. The European Cinema 1929-48 526 

(I) The French Film 526 

(II) The British Film 544 

(III) The Soviet Film 561 

(IV) The German Film 580 
(V) The Italian Film 595 

(VI) Films from Other Countries 601 

APPENDICES 
I. The Production Units of Some Outstanding 

Films 621 

(I) Fiction Films 621 

(II) Documentary Films 674 

(111) Trick, Cartoon, Puppet and other 
kinds of Specialised and Experi- 
mental Films 687 

II. Glossary. Some Terms used in the Film 

Industry 691 

(1) Technical Terms Used Mainly 

in Production 691 

(II) Terms in General Use in the 

Trade as a Whole 701 

III. Selected Book List 706 

(I) British and American 706 

(II) Foreign 708 

IV. Extracts from a Programme printed in 
connection with a memorial performance 
held of Carl Mayer's work, Scala Theatre, 
London, April 13, 1947. 709 



CONTENTS 

EPILOGUE 1948-1958 

Introductory Note 721 

COUNTRIES SURVEYED 

I United States 726 

II United Kingdom 732 

III France 737 

IV Italy 743 

V Scandinavia: Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Norway 748 

VI Other European Countries: West Germany, 
Austria, Spain, Switzerland, Netherlands, 
Belgium, Greece, Yugoslavia 750 

VII Soviet Union 754 

VIII Eastern Europe: Poland, East Germany, 

Czechoslovakia, Hungary 756 

IX British Commonwealth: Canada, Australia, 
New Zealand, South Africa, Ceylon, Ghana, 
Malaya, Pakistan, India 761 

X Asia: Japan, China 765 

XI Latin America: Mexico, Argentine, Puerto 

Rico 769 

Conclusion 771 

Index 775 

Index to Epilogue 812 



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS 

Frontispiece 
Robert J. Flaherty and Helen Van Dongen editing 
Louisiana Story, at Abbeville, La., U.S.A., 1946-48. 

facing page 

Les Sept Chateaux Du Diable (1907) 80 

Cripple Creek Barroom (1898) 80 

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919) 96 

The Last Laugh (1924) 96 

L'Hippocampe (1934) 112 

The Shape of Things to Come (1935) 112 

The Birth of a Nation (1915) 128 

His Own Home Town (1918) 128 

Tom, Dick and Harry (1940) 144 

Theodora Goes Wild (1937) 144 

Intolerance (1916) 152 

Orphans of the Storm (1922) 152 

Broken Blossoms (1919) 153 

Way Down East (1920) 153 

Foolish Wives (1922) 160 

Greed (1923-24) 160 

A Woman of Paris (1923) 168 

The Gold Rush (1925) 168 

Robin Hood (1923) 169 

The Black Pirate (1926) 169 

Sparrows (1926) 176 

Salome (1922) 176 

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1920-21) 184 

Forbidden Paradise (1924) 184 

Sunrise (1927) 185 

Hotel Imperial (1926) 185 

The Tower of Lies (1926) 186 

The Wind (1928) 186 

The Big Parade (1925) 192 

9 



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS 

facing page 

The Crowd (1927) 192 

Sadie Thompson (1928) 200 

Stella Dallas (1925) 200 

Tol'able David (1921) 201 

TUMBLEWEEDS (1925) 201 

The Covered Wagon (1923) 202 

The Iron Horse (1924) 202 

Moana (1926) 208 

Be Big (Ca. 1931) 208 

Grandma's Boy (1922) 216 

Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928) 216 

Mother (1926) 217 

Battleship Potemkin (1925) 217 

The General Line (1926-29) 224 

New Babylon (1929) 224 

Storm over Asia (1928) 234 

Arsenal (1929) 234 

The Ghost That Never Returns (1929) 240 

Bed and Sofa (1926) 240 

The Golem (1920) 256 

Dracula (1922) 256 

The Loves of Jeanne Ney (1927) 264 

Vaudeville (1925) 264 

Nibelungen Saga : Siegfried (1923-24) 265 

Waxworks (1924) 265 

Destiny (1921) 272 

Metropolis (1925-26) 272 

Warning Shadows (1922) 280 

Cinderella (1923) 280 

Vanina (1922) 281 

The Student of Prague (1926) 281 

The Street (1923) 288 

The Blue Angel (1929) 288 

La Cigarette (1919) 296 

Paris Qui Dort (1923) 296 

The Late Matthew Pascal (1924) 297 

Kean (1924) 297 

The Italian Straw Hat (1927) 304 

10 



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS 

facing page 

The Fall of the House of Usher (1928) 304 

La Passion de Jeanne D'Arc (1928) 306 

Therese Raquin (1927) 306 

En Rade (1927) 312 

L/Age D'Or (1930) 312 

Water Folk (Secrets of Nature) (1931) 313 

Blackmail (1929) 313 

Drifters (1929) 320 

North Sea (1938) 320 

The Phantom Carriage (1919) 324 

The Atonement of Gosta Berling (1923) 324 

Underworld (1927) 432 

The Public Enemy (1931) 432 

Applause (1929) 440 

Forty-Second Street (1933) 440 

I am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932) 441 

American Madness (1932) 441 

All Quiet on the Western Front ( 1929-30) 448 

Little Caesar (1930) 448 

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936) 452 

It Happened One Night (1934) 452 

Scarface (1932) 456 

Crime Without Passion (1934) 456 

She Done Him Wrong (1933) 457 

A Night at the Opera (1935) 457 

The Story of G.I. Joe (1945) 464 

The Best Years of our Lives (1946) 464 

Native Land (1942) 468 

Crossfire (1947) 468 

Hallelujah! (1929) 472 

Moby Dick (1930) 472 

Morocco (1930) 473 

Lady Killer (1933) 473 

They Won't Forget (1937) 480 

Fury (1936) 480 

The Grapes of Wrath (1940) 488 

Dead End (1937) 488 

Wild Boys of the Road (1933) 489 

11 



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS 

facing page 

A Star is Born (1937) 489 

Gone With The Wind (1939) 492 

The Ox-Bow Incident (1943) 492 

Citizen Kane (1941) 496 

The Little Foxes (1941) 496 

The Maltese Falcon (1941) 500 

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1947) 500 

Double Indemnity (1944) 504 

Boomerang (1947) 504 

Quick Millions (1931) 505 

City Streets (1931) 505 

Modern Times (1936) 512 

Monsieur Verdoux (1946-47) 512 

World of Plenty (1942-43) 520 

The Song of Ceylon (1934-35) 520 

The Land (1941) 521 

Louisiana Story (1946-48) 521 

Le Million (1930) 528 

Sous les Toits de Paris (1929-30) 528 

La Grande Illusion (1937) 534 

Toni (1935) 534 

La Kermesse Heroique (1935) 536 

La Belle Equipe (1936) 536 

La Bete Humaine (1938) 537 

Les Enfants Du Paradis (1944) 537 

Quai de Brumes (1938) 538 

Le Jour Se Leve (1939) 538 

Zero De Conduite (1933) 540 

Le Diable au Corps (1947) 540 

La Maternelle (1932) 542 

L'Atalante (1934) 542 

The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933) 544 

Rembrandt (1936) 544 

Night Mail (1936) 550 

Western Approaches ( 1944) 550 

Gaslight (1940) 552 

The Stars Look Down (1939) 552 

The Way Ahead (1943) 553 

12 



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS 

facing page 

Henry V (1944) 553 

The Overlanders (1946) 554 

Nine Men (1943) 554 

Fires Were Started (1943) 556 

Target For Tonight (1941) 556 

Oliver Twist (1947-48) 558 

Great Expectations (1946) 558 

Brief Encounter (1945) 560 

Odd Man Out (1947) 560 

The Road to Life (1931) 568 

Turksib (1928) 568 

Chapaev (1934) 569 

The Great Beginning (1939) 569 

We From Kronstadt (1936) 576 

The University of Life (1940) 576 

Westfront 1918 (1930) 584 

Kameradschaft (1931) 584 

Die Dreigroschenoper (1931) 585 

"M" (1932) 585 

Emil and the Detectives (1931) 592 

Congress Dances (1931) 592 

Open City (1945) 600 

Paisan (1946) 600 

The Day of Wrath (1944) 601 

Ditte Menneskebarn (1946) 601 

Extase (1933) 608 

The Last Chance (1945) 608 

Spanish Earth (1937) 616 

Maedchen in Uniform (1931) 616 

La Bataille Du Rail (1944-45) 617 

The World is Rich (1946-47) 617 



13 



PREFACE 

It was with some misgivings that I decided to let this book 
be republished, although it had been often requested. When 
it was written in 1929, I had had about twelve months' 
practical work of film-making, having spent an excessive 
amount of my childhood and schooldays in cinemas. The 
first draft manuscript was about three times its published 
length, and perhaps the main thing in its favour was that it 
showed an enthusiasm for films. It also set down with 
fair accuracy a large amount of factual information not 
easily found elsewhere. It came about like this. 

In 1928 I was employed first as an ' outside man ' (which 
meant hiring furniture and properties) and later as an 
assistant in the art-department in the biggest British film 
studio of the time. My youthful impetuosity led me to 
criticise the lack of creative opportunities in the studio 
where I worked, and within a few days I was out on the 
street with nothing in my pocket. 1 Many may now forget 
that 1929 saw the almost complete shut-down of British 
studios because of Hollywood's revolutionary change-over 
to the sound film. So, thwarted in my wish to be associated 
with making films I turned to the next best thing — writing 
about them. Mr. Jonathan Cape gave me the opportunity, 
for which I have always been grateful. Eighteen months 
later The Film Till Now appeared, to be received in general 
by a friendly Press with the exception of the Trade's own 
papers. 

Naively I believed that its theories and facts would unlock 
the studio doors again to me. The opposite took place. I 
found employment still harder to get, until luckily I met 
Mr. John Grierson. He asked me to join his little unit 
at the Empire Marketing Board, where I worked for six 
months learning the rudiments of the documentary film 
method. 

1 Film Weekly, November 12, 1928. 

IS 



PREFACE 

Since then I have been occupied mainly in making films 
and helping others to make them. There has been little 
time for writing books. The Film Till Now should, of 
course, have been wholly re-written; but I wonder if it 
would have been fair to alter points of view held nearly 
twenty years ago? Finally it was decided to let the main 
body of the original text be reprinted as it stood, making 
only minor changes required for accuracy. Tempting as 
it was in places to modify an opinion, or add a new point 
of view, it has not been done. This is especially the case 
in regard to the Soviet chapter and with the early formative 
years of the American cinema. Prophecies about the 
dialogue film, largely disproved though they have been 
subsequently, must stand. I ask the reader's indulgence. 
I have, however, been unable to resist adding a number of 
new footnotes where I felt they were justified. Knowing 
that perhaps the most used section of the book has been 
the Appendix of Production Units of some Outstanding 
Films, this list has been revised, expanded and brought 
up-to-date. The same has been done for the Glossary of 
Technical Terms and the Book List. The volume has also 
been re-illustrated. Most of the stills are from well-known 
and important films but occasionally, as with Lady Killer 
or Be Big, one has been included because it represents 
a trend in film subjects or styles rather than the film from 
which it is taken. 

To bring the survey as a whole up to 1948, I sought the 
help of my old friend in America, Mr. Richard Griffith, 
knowing that his approach to films is very close to mine. 
He was almost the first correspondent I had after the 
publication of the book in America in 1930, second only 
to the late Eric Knight, perhaps one of the best film critics 
we have ever had. Mr. Griffith now holds the important 
post of Executive-Director at the National Board of 
Review of Motion Pictures in New York. He is also 
Assistant Director of the Museum of Modern Art 
Film Library in the same city. He has thus a wide 
experience in film viewing both past and present. It should 

16 



PREFACE 

be added that, from a practical point of view, he contributed 
to the making of certain wartime documentaries and cine- 
magazines for the U.S., Army, notably to the famous Why 
We Fight series under the supervision of Frank Capra. 
Griffith's additional section to this new edition, Part Three : 
The Film Since Then, to which he has written his own 
Introduction, carries my full support of his critical judge- 
ment and I take this opportunity of formally thanking him 
for his contribution. It should be remembered that he is 
writing from an American point of view. I must share 
occasional responsibility, however, where films have not 
been available to him, mainly in the non- American chapters, 
and where I have been fortunate enough to visit certain 
European countries since the war. Finally it should be 
added that he is writing briefly ; to have surveyed the past 
eighteen years of films in detail would have meant a vast 
new book in itself. 



A new edition, as the reader will have noted, permits 
an author to indulge in the luxury of a new Preface. 

Films recollected in memory, says Richard Griffith, are 
apt to be biased by nostalgia. How right he is ! When I 
was fortunate enough to spend some months at the Film 
Library in New York in 1937 and '38, I found that out 
only too well. On the other hand seeing old films again 
brings pleasant surprises; things you never saw and 
certainly implications which you were too inexperienced 
to observe. In general, however, films of the past usually 
live in our mind as being better than they really were, 
especially fiction films. Memory adds values to them that 
were never there. Yet^ divorcing technique from view- 
point, one realises now how much one missed by not 
understanding fully a director's aim at the time, or not 
knowing the conditions under which a film was made, or 
the purpose indeed for which the film was made at all. 
That is why I greatly welcomed last year Dr. Siegfried 
Kracauer's book From Caligari to Hitler because it gave 

17 2 



PREFACE 

a social, political and economic background to the early 
German cinema that no one else to my knowledge had tried 
to do. I wish that other writers (or perhaps Dr. Kracauer 
himself?) could do the same thing for the films of other 
countries ; Griffith, I fancy, has done it briefly for the later 
American cinema in this new edition, and Mr. Lewis 
Jacobs also came near to this approach. 1 

Since the manuscript of this book was first written, I 
have at least found out that the more you become involved 
in making films the less you know about them. Sometimes 
I have sat in a cutting-room with film draped round the 
walls and overflowing the bins and realised just how little 
one does know about the infinite possibilities of this 
wonderful medium, with its magic property of joining 
image to image and mixing sound with sound. Certainly 
I would not again have the audacity to try and write a sur- 
vey of the world's cinema now that I know not only how 
difficult it is to make a film but how much more difficult it 
is to find the economic conditions in which you can use 
the medium with honesty and sincerity. It is always tragic 
to me that a film-director must spend some three-quarters 
of his time negotiating the ways and means to make the 
film he wants to make and only a quarter in actually making 
the film itself. To the director with something he thinks 
it important to say the means of production are so hard 
to come by that much creative time is spent in merely 
getting access to the expensive materials of film 
production. 

These past thirty years have seen a steady concentration 
of all means of film production in Western Europe and the 
United States. With the possibility of making very large 
returns both from a home-market and from audiences 
overseas, the film industries of most countries have 
now become more than ever before a matter of financial 
investment and international trade bargaining at the highest 
level. The film is no longer the happy-go-lucky invest- 
ment of small-time entrepreneurs. It is gambling in public 

1 The Rise of the American Film (Harcourt Brace, 1939). 

18 



PREFACE 

taste on the grand scale and has tended inevitably to be 
restricted to those controlling the other great international 
manufactures. 

The screen's reflection of a people's character and ideals 
and traditions, its unlimited power to create goodwill and 
promote understanding, its unequalled importance as a 
medium for public communication are motives which have 
been largely overlooked in the scramble to monopolise this 
universal show-business. Governments, banks, insurance 
companies, electrical cartels and other holders of big 
capital guide the destiny of the motion picture medium 
rather than the creative artists who seek to use it as an 
outlet for their ideas and imaginations. 

Almost the whole potential of the cinema as an instru- 
ment of public education has been neglected by the 
Industry's controllers in their pursuit of big returns. Little 
attempt, except in the field of documentary films, has as yet 
been made to use this powerful medium as a contribution to 
world thought. It has been characteristic of the Industry 
always to aim to produce its films for the largest possible 
number of people, and hence stand to gain the biggest 
revenue. Seldom have the serious social responsibilities 
attached to such an undertaking been recognised by the 
executives of the Industry. If the same disregard for 
responsibility were to obtain in the publishing or broad- 
casting worlds, public alarm would be at once expressed. 
The cinema has grown up as a cheap and convenient form 
of community amusement causing experiment in its artistic 
potentialities to be scarce and difficult to achieve. Only 
recently has it aroused the attention of educationalists and 
those concerned with social progress and moral welfare. 
Up till lately the interest of capitalist governments has 
been mainly confined to the film's commodity value and its 
vast yield in taxes. The showmen and promoters have been 
left to do what they liked with their adolescent Industry. 
To-day, they not illogically resent interference from the 
outside. The fact that the head of a Government depart- 
ment or a member of Parliament can have made himself 

J9 



PREFACE 

knowledgeable about the complex internal affairs of the 
Industry has come as rather a shock. 

But the making of sincere films by men who have 
something valuable and not necessarily unentertaining to 
say in the world has become a dim prospect when viewed 
in relation to the constant need to keep screen-space and 
studio-space filled, the call to save dollars, the spread of 
trade and what are hypocritically called ' ways of life ' by 
film exploitation, the need not only to relate box-office 
revenue to production cost but perhaps to adjust this picture 
to make money and that one to lose it in order to satisfy 
an accountant's balance-sheet. To produce a good fiction 
film to-day is often a matter of luck, or the stern insistence 
of a director having the guts and faith to stick by his 
intentions. When I see a Crossfire, a Miracle or an 
Overlanders, I give thanks to someone somewhere who has 
broken through the defences. 

The three branches of the Industry — production, distri- 
bution and exhibition — once separate processes, have 
become so merged into big monopolies that the making of 
films by a handful of independent and sincerely creative 
film-makers has become something like an impossibility. 
Such freedom to produce can never return until exhibiting 
interests are wholly or at least partially divorced from 
production interests. Exhibitor control and influence over 
the making of films such as exists to some extent in 
Britain and certainly in America tend to lead to extreme 
caution, to resistance to new ideas, to obsession to believed 
proven box-office formulas, and to a general pandering to 
the lower instincts of the mass-audience. When you con- 
sider that the age level of this audience must be assessed at 
the lowest common denominator, the 'teen-age rule, by 
which exhibitors themselves view their own commodity, 
you can understand how this control paralyses adult 
creative initiative in production. 1 

1 Thus it is difficult at first to understand the logic of the British 
Government setting up a Film Finance Corporation with £5 million to 
be invested in production at the guidance of the distributors! 

20 



PREFACE 

But the public, dissatisfied as it might be, has auto- 
matically responded to the dynamic attraction of this new 
medium and is surely now ripe for special cinemas showing 
special types of films that will exploit the screen-medium 
to the full. More advanced in taste and knowledge than 
the exhibitors and distributors, it has no opportunity at 
present to sort itself out into discriminating levels. It has 
little resource except to stay away from cinemas. An 
American film-trade journal recently put the matter bluntly. 
After reporting a rival journal's comment that the Gallup 
Audience Research Survey stated that if all persons in the 
United States between the ages of 31 and 65 could be 
induced to go to the cinema once a week, then the increase 
in the box-office gross would amount to 800,000,000 dollars, 
the Motion Picture Herald remarked : * The same Gallup 
sources a few weeks ago reported that the best customer of 
the screen was a person of nineteen years. That, as we 
have remarked before, is the age of eagerness, filled with 
urges and wishing and the hungry quest for experience — 
an order of vocational training for the business of living. 
After 31, and onward, the individual has had some 
experience, knows some of the answers, and the keen edge 
is off the appetites. ... It would be most unprofitable 
for the motion picture to seek out the genuinely mature 
instincts, because in doing so the big hungry young audience 
would have no part of the stuff.' 1 These are the editorial 
words of a responsible journal of the American Motion 
Picture Industry. They are self-explanatory. 2 

To an exhibitor good entertainment means the attraction 
to his cinema of the largest number of people in his area. 
What methods of magnetism are used is irrelevant, 
although it is amazing what ingenuity is sometimes 
employed. Exhibitors are reluctant to show films that 
might encourage their audiences to think because — and this 
is the nub of the matter — a thoughtful audience would 

1 June 26, 1948. (My italics— P.R.) 

2 Relevant are the findings in regard to cinema-going in Rising 
Twenty, Pearl Jephcott (Faber & Faber, 1948). 

21 



PREFACE 

endanger the blind cinema-going habit upon which the 
exhibitor depends for maintenance of his full houses. A 
questioning audience demanding a more mature standard 
of film programme would make an exhibitor's revenue far 
more speculative than up till now. I quote from the same 
American trade-journal : * Once again may it be said that 
the motion picture theatre is not approached by its 
customers as a place of controversy, of consideration, of 
issues, of thinking— it is a place for feeling, for emotion, 
and for its millions those emotions are simple, and basic, 
never complex. The box-office people neither study nor 
think about pictures. They look at them. If they like them, 
they say so to friends and neighbours.' * Mr. Terry 
Ramsaye, the author of these quotations and the editor of 
the journal in question, may self-appoint himself to speak 
for America's millions of filmgoers, but I flatly refuse on 
evidence to accept this appraisal of the filmgoing public 
in other countries including Britain. If his thesis is valid, 
how does he account for the phenomenal box-office success 
of such films as The Best Years of Our Lives, Crossfire and 
Gentleman's Agreement, not only in Britain but in their 
country of origin? 

It is this kind of sweeping assessment, so common 
among high film executives, of the ordinary man that 
explains such demonstrations of intolerance and bigotry 
as were witnessed at the Un-American Activities investi- 
gation on certain Hollywood personalities in Washington 
last November. 2 Opinions expressed at that sorry affair 
represent an attitude held by an influential section of the 
men who promote motion pictures and show them both in 
the United States and Britain. 

This neurotic fear of losing their grip on the 'teen-age 
section of the public causes exhibitors and renters to oppose 
all showing of films other than for ephemeral amusement 
purposes, and especially to resist the development of the 
potentially-vast non-theatrical field. Following this is a 

1 November 1, 1947. 

2 Vide, Hollywood on Trial, Gordon Kahn, (Boni and Ga«er, 1948). 

22 



PREFACE 

natural hostility to the growth of film societies, one of the 
most encouraging signs of film appreciation in Great 
Britain to-day, in fact practically the only alternative to the 
commercial cinemas. This time I quote from the reliable 
British trade- journal Kinemato graph Weekly and at some 
length, because it is important that the public should know 
that this point of view is held in the Industry : ' Film 
societies were the target for a slashing attack by the 
Kinematograph Renters Society Council last week which, 
accusing members of the movement of being ringleaders of 
the current-wide attacks on the Film Industry, decided to 
call a meeting with the Cinematograph Exhibitors 
Association to thrash out the whole position of these 
societies. Members said that film societies, which paid 
little for film hire, were so much on the increase that 
they were creating a very grave threat to exhibitor interests 
. . . The meeting then had a long debate on the merits 
and demerits of film culture, in which culture got the worse 
of the argument. It was said by a member that society 
members were the type of people who never go to a normal 
kinema shozv. The Industry would never persuade them 
to adopt a regular kinema-going habit by letting them have 
old films to see, which were far from representative of the 
modern type of film product. Another member said that 
the only type of film the societies booked was the " arty " 
type. These people did absolutely no good to the Industry. 
No one had anything to say in favour of the movement/ l 
It should be noted that the Kinematograph Renters Society 
is a national body representing all the leading and most of 
the small film distributors in the United Kingdom. It has 
representation on the Board of Governors of the British 
Film Institute, one of whose major objects is to encourage 
the growth of the film society movement ! 

Powerful Trade interests frequently denigrate and 

resent intelligent and honest film criticism. They obviously 

oppose civic or municipal cinemas, as was seen in their 

opposition to the Local Government Bill in which they were 

1 September 18, 1947. (My italics— P.R.) 

23 



PREFACE 

unsuccessful. They obviously are disinclined to market a 
better type of film themselves and what is more try to 
prevent others from doing so. Their fear of film criticism 
amounts to a fixation. One moment they will ridicule all 
newspaper criticism except that which is mere gossip and 
valuable to them because it mentions star names and film 
titles; the next, when some critic exposes a spurious 
picture, the same voices will accuse him of failing totally 
to understand ' what the public wants \ In fact the film 
executive would like a film critic to be docile, unquestioning 
and obedient; in other words not a critic at all, merely a 
hack journalist susceptible to the fleshpots. Executives and 
publicity men are actually angry and hurt if a critic displays 
a mind of his own. Whenever intelligent, unwarped film 
criticism has appeared in the national Press or on the radio 
in Britain there has been a protest from the Industry. 
Cedric Belfrage, Alistair Cooke, and more recently Richard 
Winnington (quite the most important and sanest film critic 
of recent years) have all come in for denunciation. It is 
a healthy sign that in the last few years some British film 
critics have shown a certain unity in protecting their liberty 
and preserving their principles of free criticism. They 
have refused to be seduced into accepting the authoritarian 
directives of the Industry's executives and publicity men. 
Fear of criticism is a sign of dishonesty of purpose, that 
is if it is dishonest to extort the maximum profit from a 
product irrespective of its social or aesthetic effect on the 
public, and to continue to aim that product deliberately 
at the less-developed side of public intelligence without 
regard to its effect? The producers, renters and exhibitors 
of this Industry would make no claim to be educators, 
social servants or uplifters of public taste. Why should 
they? They are businessmen, showmen and company 
promoters with maximum returns as their sole motive. Yet, 
and this is the whole dilemma of the cinema, they control 
the means of production and exhibition of the most 
persuasive and influential medium yet invented for mass- 
performance and absorption. As businessmen in capitalist 

24 



PREFACE 

or semi-capitalist societies they may defend their methods 
and principles; as citizens they cannot resent criticism 
of their lack of social responsibilities. 



During the lobbying and propagandising that preceded 
the Parliamentary debates on the new Cinematograph Films 
Act of 1948, various proposals to solve the problem of 
separating exhibition from production were put forward. 
They ranged from complete nationalisation of the cinemas, 
as in Czechoslovakia, or the placing of cinemas under 
municipal management, as in Norway, to control over a 
proportion of the screen-space required by law for British 
films in each cinema. Most of these proposals, however, 
depended on the use of compulsory methods which in the 
fields of leisure and public education are not acceptable to 
all of us. The Act as it became law has done something 
to secure cinema-distribution for a limited number of 
independently-made films, but more important is a Com- 
mittee of Enquiry into Exhibition to be appointed by the 
President of the Board of Trade. Of considerable long- 
range importance also is the recently-passed Local Govern- 
ment Act which empowers local authorities to run cinemas 
if there is evidence of a public demand but this will 
obviously take time to materialise. 

Perhaps the most interesting proposal for immediate 
action was that for the formation of a fourth circuit of 
cinemas in Britain, a kind of B.B.C. Third Programme, 
under governmental or municipal control to guarantee an 
outlet not only for independently-produced British pictures 
of good quality but for films of all countries that attempt 
to use the screen more intelligently than it is used by the 
general run of circuit-controlled or independent cinemas. 

The proposal was based on the recognition that, poor 
as is the quality of many feature films offered to the public, 
British audience attendances still remain higher than at the 
outbreak of the war, although the restrictions on other 
ways of spending increased earnings should be remembered. 

25 



PREFACE 

It was accepted that to-day many people are apparently 
satisfied with the films already offered them, but suggested 
that there might be many others who would pay to see a 
better type of film if it was available, among them possibly 
many hundreds of thousands of people who do not go to 
the cinema at all or only occasionally. It was argued that 
a period in cinema exhibition may have been reached when 
it is possible to consider making certain kinds of film for 
certain specific types of audience among the great mass of 
people who make up the between twenty-five and thirty 
million paid attendances per week at British cinemas. 

Almost all production companies to-day choose a subject, 
star and budget it in the hope that it will appeal to as many 
people as possible according to its circuit and other distri- 
bution. It has seldom been thought worthwhile to aim 
deliberately at certain sections of the public as in the case 
of publishing, broadcasting and the theatre, and to calculate 
production costs accordingly. Distribution and exhibition 
methods are not geared to such selection. The booking 
methods of the Industry are inflexibly organised on a basis 
of first- feature, second-feature, fill-ups and newsreel con- 
tracts; only rarely does a film get special methods of 
salesmanship and then only when a producer is strong 
enough to demand it. When it does, the success of this 
method of individual salesmanship amazes even the 
Industry itself. 

There is also considerable need to investigate the make- 
up of cinema programmes themselves and to see if a more 
balanced selection of films might be to the public liking. 
The argument for and against the * double- feature ' pro- 
gramme has been heard endlessly. There is evidence that 
many people would prefer a single main feature film, 
supported by perhaps a documentary, a cartoon, a cine- 
magazine of The March of Time or This Modern Age type, 
with the inevitable newsreel. It should be remembered 
that the double-feature programme was instituted in 
America and Britain towards the end of the twenties only 
because there was a serious decline in cinema attendances 

26 



PREFACE 

due to the standardised type of picture coming off the 
Hollywood production belt. Exhibitors argued to them- 
selves that to bring audiences back into the theatres, longer 
programmes must be provided on a ' more for your money ' 
theory. In the same way producers had tried earlier putting 
a popular star into more than one role in one film. (Gloria 
Swanson once played five parts in a single film thus giving 
her fans five times the value of their admission ticket.) 
At least one London cinema played a treble-feature pro- 
gramme for a time until the talking films brought back 
audiences with a rush. 

If the single- feature programme was to be restored in 
a number of cinemas a greater opportunity would result 
to develop the variety of the supporting programme. Short- 
story films, animated cartoons, travel and scientific films, 
cinemagazines and documentaries of different kinds are 
fertile ground for the development of ideas, techniques and 
personalities, for experimental work which, if success- 
ful, would influence the whole scope of film-making. For 
many years supporting films have been sheer rubbish because 
exhibitors attach little importance to anything but the 
main picture. The revenue obtainable by supporting films 
has been so small as to make their manufacture highly 
speculative unless producers have resorted to sponsorship 
as have the documentary makers. One of the most 
progressive steps that could take place in the Industry 
would be the abolition of the double- feature bill and the 
substitution of a well-balanced programme. This would 
automatically rid us of that dubious import, the Hollywood 
' B ' picture. 

There is mounting evidence in Britain to-day, derived 
from the increasing formation of film societies, 1 from the 
attendances at the few specialist cinemas, from the success 
of non-theatrical distribution during and since the war, 
from the Press and from countless discussion groups and 
public meetings, that a certain section of the public would 

1 There are 148 general film societies in the United Kingdom (1948), 
and 42 scientific film societies. 

27 



PREFACE 

support a much better quality type of film if there were 
the cinemas in which they could be exhibited. It is to this 
section of the public, very much larger than the Trade is 
aware of, that we could look for the initial returns on a 
better kind of picture, always provided that production 
costs are kept within the scope of its exhibition receipts. 
This is the type of distribution that would bring the impetus 
of new hope and faith to the creative makers of films who 
at present wear themselves out in the vain struggle for 
means of production. 

Every city and town in the United Kingdom with a 
population of, say. more than fifty thousand inhabitants, 
and where there are four or more existing cinemas, should 
have at least one cinema set aside for such special films as 
are available or desirable. That cinema should be acquired 
either by outright purchase, or by renting for a trial period 
of five years. The number of these cinemas would vary 
in proportion with the population. In Manchester, for 
example, three might be the appropriate number; in 
London, twenty. Choice of cinema should be governed by 
suitability of site and seating capacity, seven hundred and 
fifty seats being a reasonable average. The cinemas thus 
selected would range over both existing circuit and 
independently-owned theatres, and should be placed either 
under the direct control of a Government Film Corporation 
or Board, or under the management of the municipality, 
but in either case their programme booking should be 
controlled by a central body. Programmes need not 
necessarily be restricted to a week's booking as is the 
general practice in the Trade, but should be permitted to 
run so long as public demand lasts. A minimum of five 
hundred such cinemas throughout the country should be 
the aim. 

In addition to observing the normal opening hours in 
the locality, these cinemas should be made easily available 
at reasonable hire rates in the mornings and on Sundays 
for specialised performances to meet the increasing needs 
of municipalities, schools, universities, educational bodies 

28 



PREFACE 

of all kinds, cultural and scientific bodies, and the many 
other specialised groups that are using films more and 
more as part of their activities. The aim should be to build 
up each cinema into a kind of film centre, with a grip on 
every cultural activity of the medium including the housing 
of sub-standard libraries of educational films. 

Thus the public would be able to absorb gradually a 
higher quality of entertainment than the ordinary 
commercial cinema provides, while leaving the latter free 
to cater to the mass-appeal. This proposal it is contended 
would cause the Trade to raise less objection to Govern- 
ment action than any proposals involving nationalisation 
or control over screen-time. 

Some such project as this is the only solution I can see 
to curing a situation that leaves one twentieth of the film- 
going public frustrated and unsatisfied, and some of the 
best elements in film production impotent and unfulfilled. 1 
Public taste in Britain in the past ten years has matured 
and is being met in the fields of art, music and literature. 
The same thing is happening in the cinema, and there is 
little the exhibitors and renters societies can do to prevent 

it. 

* 

Despite the inevitable process of commercialising the 
making of motion pictures by their manufacturing studios 
and the resultant organisation of technicians and other 
kinds of labour employed in production, the past eighteen 
years have seen certain notable developments in creative 
film-making which Mr. Griffith ably deals with later in 
this book. They have also been the subject of several 
considered works published since 1930, notably Mr. Lewis 
Jacobs' Rise of the American Film and Miss Iris Barry's 
translation of the French History of Motion Pictures by 
Bardeche and Brasillach. There are one or two trends of 
a general nature, however, upon which I feel impelled to 
comment. 

1 This proposal was contained in a private memorandum submitted to 
the President of the Board of Trade, December 12, 1945, 

29 



PREFACE 

One of the most significant has been Hollywood's recent 
failure to fulfil its status of leadership. For the first time 
in motion picture history since the first World War, 
Hollywood's supremacy in world markets has been 
threatened. Not only have several countries imposed stiff 
restrictions on the import of American films, but they have 
also made considerable progress in their own production 
output. Britain is the outstanding example. The critical 
moment came when the British Government in August, 
1947, imposed a seventy-five per cent, ad valorem tax on 
American pictures. In reply, the American production 
companies through their body the Motion Picture 
Association decided to cut off all supply of films to the 
United Kingdom, knowing well that re-issues of old films 
(on which the new tax was not payable) nnd new British 
films could not, after a while, keep open all the United King- 
dom cinemas. Out of this situation, which continued in 
an atmosphere of tension for eight months, came the Anglo- 
American Film Agreement now signed for four years. It 
limits severely the proportion of money which American 
producers can take out of Britain from the earnings of their 
films, and lists various activities into which the remainder 
of their takings may be put. We are not concerned here 
with the details of the Agreement, reached on the highest 
political and trade levels; but had a compromise not been 
reached, Hollywood was undoubtedly faced with a complete 
reorganisation of its economy. The situation was again 
exacerbated when the quota of British feature films to be 
shown in British cinemas was fixed at forty-five per cent., 
thus lessening the playing-space of American films in 
Britain. Never before has Hollywood's domination of the 
world's screens been so seriously threatened. 

How vital Washington regards its motion pictures in 
overseas markets was revealed in a document issued as far 
back as 1938 by the United States Department of Commerce 
and which deserves recall. Mr. Nathan D. Golden, Chief 
of the Motion Picture Division of the Bureau of Foreign 
and Domestic Commerce, contributed some revealing and 

30 



PREFACE 

presumably official views on the need for Hollywood to 
fight to maintain its lead in the world. To quote : ' In 
view of that fact, what action should be taken by our 
American companies in order to maintain a position of 
superiority over their competitors in the markets of the 
world? To what major measure can they to-day resort, 
with the object of checking trends which we must acknow- 
ledge to be adverse? What dynamic attraction or 
allurement can be exerted, of greater potency than the 
local appeal of a spectator's mother- tongue and his natural 
fondness for familiar scenes and ways of life? Plainly, 
before all else, we must emphasise to the utmost the 
contrast in quality between our good American pictures 
and the typical product of local producing industries 
abroad. We must make that contrast as vivid, as striking, 
as impressive, as it can possibly be made. Persistently 
and adroitly, we must make the foreign moviegoer acutely 
conscious that the American picture is a product of 
decidedly superior quality — of rich and varied artistry, 
of entertainment value unmatchable in the run-of-time 
output of our competitors abroad. We must make this 
" High-Quality'* factor so universally recognised that local 
audiences abroad will have no desire to see inferior films 
that owe their existence simply to some Government 
legislation or subsidy.' That this could be done, Mr. 
Golden expressed no doubts in the final paragraph to his 
introduction : ' As we advance into the new year of 1939, 
the factors to be relied upon, in maintaining our position 
in foreign markets, may still be defined as the simple, 
basic elements of our unmatched scientific skill in motion 
picture production — our amazing capacity for devising 
new and really wonderful methods — our determination to 
achieve artistic and enthralling camera effects — the incom- 
parable richness of our material facilities and resources — 
and our unequalled variety and range of every type of 
acting talent. Together these things spell quality — and 
it is quality that will continue to attract foreign audiences 
to American pictures.' 

31 



PREFACE 

These modest sentiments were underlined in a foreword 
to the same document by Mr. N. H. Engle, Acting- 
Director of the Bureau of Foreign and Domestic 
Commerce : ' Not only are the foreign film markets 
important to American producers because of the amount 
of money earned abroad and remitted to this country — 
there is also the important factor of the influence which 
the pictures exert in familiarising foreign audiences with 
American ways of life, and stimulating the desire to own 
and use such garments, furnishings, utensils and scientific 
innovations as are depicted on the screen. The benefits 
derived by this country from a successful cultivation of 
the foreign motion picture markets are thus direct and 
indirect/ So the cat came out of the bag. 

With such a clear definition of policy directives from 
Washington, we can imagine the shock of the British 
import tax in August, 1947; the comparative relief felt 
by Hollywood, Wall Street, and the commercial officials 
when the tax was repealed in April of this year and the 
new four-year agreement concluded; and their renewed 
anger when the high quota for British feature films in 
British cinemas became known. Unlike their predecessors, 
the British Labour Government has not been willing to 
bend the knee to Hollywood's Wall Street masters. Of 
interest to us here, moreover, over and above the trade 
aspects of these negotiations is the fact that nowhere in the 
United Kingdom, except among British exhibitors, was any 
great regret expressed that there would be a decrease in 
American pictures. The truth was that the Hollywood 
product since the war had in the main failed to live up to 
Mr. Golden's exhortation. Not that it lacked ' artistic and 
enthralling camera effects ' but the themes and subjects 
were by and large completely out of step with what was 
going on in the world. In its hothouse of self-adulation 
and self-imitation Hollywood, remote from them, failed 
to sense the after-effects of a world-war. There were 
a small handful of exceptions, films such as The Best 
Years of Our Lives, It's a Wonderful Life, Crossfire and 

32 



PREFACE 

Boomerang, but this was the work of isolated directors 
who had been in active touch with a world at war. Holly- 
wood's dream-world of make-belief which lulled audiences 
into escapism in the twenties and thirties was way out of 
tune with the hard realities of post-war life. 

It cannot be doubted that the British import tax was a 
clumsy gesture which if it had been kept would have 
inevitably led to a closing of many cinemas and hence 
probably to a smaller market for our home-produced films. 
At the same time, the challenge to Hollywood's supremacy 
over the motion picture screen was welcomed by many 
people who dislike imperialism in any form, and creative 
film-makers outside Hollywood were stimulated by this 
threat to its long-held dominance, including many people in 
Hollywood itself. 

In forty years Hollywood has contributed to the world 
screens some very brilliant films. In the Appendix of 
Outstanding Films at the end of this book, out of one- 
hundred-and-ninety feature films listed, eighty-two are 
of Hollywood origin. But at the cost of how many 
deplorable ones? Hollywood has meant the perfection of 
a system of mechanics that has led to the stultification 
of its own creative instinct. Thousands of people who 
have worked there have been restricted and curbed by the 
machine that must perforce keep studio-space and screen- 
space fully occupied or else lose money. My interest now, 
as it was nearly twenty years back when this book first 
came to be written, is in the freedom for creative 
expression on the screen. Hollywood has come to hold 
back from the screen the work of men who want to say 
something freely about the world we live in and the people 
who make it up. By restrictive methods it has been made 
almost impossible for an independent film-maker of 
original ideas to exist in Hollywood unless he has 
immense personal financial backing. The cases of Chaplin 
and Howard Hughes are unique; Disney has toed the 
line since the early single-reel symphonies; Flaherty is 
not truly of Hollywood and has for nearly all his work 

33 3 



PREFACE 

found finance elsewhere. The brave attempt after the war 
by some of the most influential directors, such as Capra, 
Ford, George Stevens and others, to exist as independent 
units ended in compromise or failure. This industrial, 
totalitarian state of affairs by which the major producing 
groups control all policy is graphically revealed by Richard 
Griffith in his subsequent chapters. 

It is in pursuit of the ideology of mass-dominance over 
producers on the one hand and over audiences on the 
other (so bluntly expressed in the several quotations given 
above), that Hollywood's executives have used billions of 
feet of celluloid, occupied millions of hours of superbly 
equipped studio-space — to do what? Entertain many 
millions of people in many countries; yes. Provide 
hundreds of thousands with employment; yes. Spread the 
American 'way of life ' across half the world; perhaps. 
But in all this effort Hollywood films did little in the 
thirties to make known those genuine American theories 
which might have helped to stop another world war. Holly- 
wood films did little to further the humanitarian uses of the 
cinema. Hollywood was seldom concerned to use this 
vast new medium, over which it had so tight a grip, to 
raise the level of understanding among all peoples, as did 
some of the films of other countries. No, Hollywood 
must face the accusation of having deliberately kept 
people from thinking, from asking questions, from 
knowing how and what other people in other places were 
doing, an aim so brilliantly and naively summed up by 
remarks quoted above. 

What constructive contribution, precisely, has Holly- 
wood made to the conception of the United Nations since 
the end of the war? How much goodwill and under- 
standing and common sense could have been spread around 
the world by Hollywood movies if their themes had been 
chosen with that end in view? As one looked each week 
at the current releases, and the list of product in the 
making, hardly a film was in any way contributing to 
bringing about a better world. Notably one excepts The 

34 



PREFACE 

Best Years of Our Lives but Mr. William Wyler has been 
quoted in the New Yorker that he would not be permitted 
to make such a picture in Hollywood now, despite the 
film's phenomenal commercial success in Britain and the 
United States. Messrs. Adrian Scott and Edward 
Dmytryk, the makers of Crossfire, are to stand trial for 
1 contempt of Congress ', although I note that that did not 
deter Mr. Eric Johnston, spokesman of the American 
Film Industry, from accepting on RKO-Radio's behalf 
a humanitarian award for that picture. 1 

One reads to-day with pity that Hollywood, that ' foun- 
tain of intellect ', in its extremity is relying on audience 
surveys to say what subjects should be made and how. 2 
Respect for the creative independence, imagination and 
liberty of the individual has sunk so low in the pursuit of 
the uniform mind. Hollywood now seems suicidally intent 
on making standardised pictures for standardised audiences 
in which individual thought and individual creation have no 
place. What an opportunity for other countries ! 



The British Film Industry has risen twice and fallen 
once since the dim days when I first wrote of its works in 
1929. During the thirties, as is described at length later, 
it expanded and rose in a vast financial gamble. New 
studio plants were erected, money was poured into pro- 
duction, technicians and actors were brought from 
Hollywood and Europe at great expense, luxury pictures 
were embarked on, all in a few years; one company, not 
large or even important, went bankrupt and began a 
landslide from which British film finance has never fully 
recovered. The whole boom fizzled out quicker than it 
had begun. Studios were soon standing idle, and, alas, 
thousands of technicians unemployed. An artificially 
subsidised Industry completely failed to be indigenous. 

In the early war years a remarkable recovery began. 

1 The Cine-Technician, Vol. 14, No. 70, January, 1948, 

2 Cf. footnote page 137. 

35 



PREFACE 

Film-makers for the first time in British feature production 
found a genuine philosophic reason for making pictures. 
Just recently we have seen another boom in British films; 
more costly pictures this time, bigger salaries, bigger 
1 presentation ' costs, the whole thing on a grandiose 
scale, with production-budgets often geared at expectations 
from the American market. I hope sincerely that Mr. 
Griffith's remarks about the reception of British films by 
United States's audiences and by American film exhibitors 
will fall on heedful ears. 1 He writes with first-hand 
knowledge, and I vouchsafe he has the interests of good 
film-making in Britain at heart. 

The Rank Empire has, it is said, brought some degree 
of organisation into the chaos of British feature film 
production. Under Rank's auspices certain notable films 
have been made that have given many people a new faith 
in native film production. Great Expectations and Odd 
Man Out were culminations of a renaissance that began 
with The Foreman Went to France, Millions Like Us and 
The Way Ahead. During the war years a new honesty 
and integrity and freshness broke into British feature 
production, but the indications to-day are that these values 
have not been carried over into post-war. The realism 
and fidelity to life of the best of the wartime films have 
been replaced by an escape into romanticism and historical 
set-pieces. The familiar adaptation of successful novels 
and plays seems to have once again ousted the 
tendency during the war for stories to be written specially 
for the screen. We shall always, of course, have with us 
the temptation for producers to acquire for the screen 
books and plays that have achieved a public welcome. But 
if we look back at the outstanding works of the cinema, 
it is mainly the films which are wholly original in con- 
ception that have created film history: Intolerance, 
Caligari, Nanook, Potemkin, The Last Laugh, A Nous 
la Liberie, Kameradschaft, The Public Enemy, Toni, The 
Way Ahead, The True Glory, Monsieur Verdoux and 
1 Vide, pages 552, 553, 561. 

36 



PREFACE 

Paisan — none was a transcription from another medium. 

As pieces of artistry and craftsmanship, histrionic skill 
and studio brilliance, one may admire the deep- focussing, 
the colourings and the chiaroscuro of the Hamlets and the 
Oliver Twists, the Ideal Husbands and the Red Shoes's, 
while noting that they do not take British cinema forward 
in a fundamental sense. They are as claustrophobic as the 
early German studio creations. 1 For all their cunning use 
of camera magic they are theatrical and literary in 
conception. Despite all the opportunities of post-war 
human experience, Britain has yet to make a film that will 
measure up to the contemporary significance of a Cross- 
fire or a Paisan. Despite all the freedom which Mr. Rank 
and his associates are said to have given to his group of 
film-makers, and I have no reason to doubt this, 2 have 
any of them since the war made a really important 
contribution to cinema which breaks new thematic ground, 
or is related seriously to life as lived to-day? 

Leaving aside the problems of the major British produc- 
tion groups, Rank and Korda with their immediate futures 
so much dependent on the American market, the position 
of the would-be independent producer in Britain has been 
difficult. The Government has announced the setting up by 
legislation of a Film Finance Corporation with a life of 
five years and spending authority up to five million pounds. 
Although eventually it is said that the Corporation will 
deal direct with independent producers, initially the finance 
will be available to the producer only via distributors. 
Thus, presumably, the distributor will have to approve 
a producer's subject, and production details before the 
Corporation grants funds for the films to be made. It is 
too early to comment on this proposed arrangement, except 
perhaps to remind the reader of the remarks already 
expressed about distributors and their control over pro- 
ducton. 3 This official step is vitally important to the future 

1 Vide, pp. 255, 258. 

2 Cf . footnote page 554. 

3 Vide, pp. 20-22. 

37 



PREFACE 

of the Industry because some producers and directors at 
present working with the big groups might decide to break 
away into independent producton. Faced with less chance 
than ever of getting revenue from the American market, 
the big producers may also consider a return to reasonably 
budgeted films about contemporary subjects, made by 
producers and directors and writers with something 
significant to say and an urge to say it, with a fair chance 
of honest distribution in the cinemas of the United 
Kingdom. 

One thing in regard to British production is very clear : 
costs of all types of films have got to come down. They 
have been geared in the past few years to the belief that 
the abnormal box-office boom of the war years would 
continue. It has not. The increase in costs all round in 
the past eight years of production has been fantastic. 
All too often the expensive way has been adopted not 
because it has been the most efficient or the best but 
because it has been thought to impress executives whose 
sense of values is based on extravagance. We do not lack 
experienced technicians, directors and writers or skilled 
actors nearly so badly as we need producers with a first- 
hand knowledge of film-making gained from hard practical 
experience. 

Criticism has also been levelled at the Trade Unions 
in Britain whose demand for wage increases and shorter 
working hours in the Film Industry have steadily been 
maintained since the early days of the war. It is probably 
correct to say that in relation to other industries, film 
technicians are better paid and some, no doubt, overpaid. 
On the other hand, technicians see absurdly vast salaries 
(agent-negotiated) paid to star-name actors and actresses, 
fantastic sums (also agent-negotiated) paid to authors for 
screen-rights of books and plays, and astronomical 
publicity and so-called presentation expenses. They remem- 
ber, also, the sudden slumps in the past when almost all 
production stopped overnight. It is always the technician 
who suffers then, not the extravagant producer or the 

38 



PREFACE 

1 front office ' boys. Many British technicians recall the 
years from 1937 up to the war; few of them were 
employed then except in documentary production. Some 
producers blame the introduction of the five-day week for 
current slowness of production but, argue the Union 
officials, the shorter week is welcomed by practical 
experienced producers who work to a schedule. It is 
opposed, they say, only by inefficient producers who do 
not adhere to planned production and shelter behind a 
pretence of ' artistic temperament \ Finally, says the 
Union, it is always ready to discuss elasticity in its agree- 
ments if it is genuinely related to a planned schedule, or 
where a special subject demands relaxation of Union 
demands. Nevertheless, some directors are said to feel that 
the elaborate grading of technicians and the insistence on 
minimum crews to do specific jobs tend not so much to 
slow down production as to clog the spontaneous working 
so often inseparable from creative production. It is just 
not possible for a director to achieve that intimacy of 
working and to obtain that closeness to his subject 
demanded by film-making, if he is burdened with an 
army-corps of technicians when a platoon would do. 
Good film-directing must always remain a creative activity 
no matter how much it depends on teams of people and 
industrialised processes, except when the aim is the steady 
manufacture of a standardised product for standardised 
audiences. 

The British Film Industry, despite its considerable 
strides in the past eight years, is faced now with some 
fundamental and very hard problems, economic, artistic, 
and personal. At the same time it has in front of it an 
opportunity such as it has never known before. 

In Europe, apart from Britain, there has also been much 
film activity. After the melodramatic though spasmodic 
flowering of the French cinema in the middle and late 
thirties and its enforced pyrotechnical sleeping-draft during 
the Occupation, production in France has now become 
almost paralysed as a result yet again of international trade 

39 



PREFACE 

relations. Heavily over-taxed, short of materials and 
equipment, the French cinema has been ruthlessly sacri- 
ficed on the altar of dollar scarcity. Hollywood has long 
wanted to control the French market and virtually to sup- 
press French production. It looks as if this is happening. 
American films, some ten and twelve years old, are flooding 
French cinemas as they have flooded ours. One's sympathy 
goes out to Gremillon, Clair, Autant-Lara, Carne, Clement, 
Rouquier and the other gifted French film-makers; their 
sense of frustration must be hard to bear. 

Of the Soviet cinema in the thirties, in many ways a 
disappointment after the memorable films of the Potemkin 
to Storm Over Asia period, Griffith has his comments to 
make later. Here let me say only how regrettable it is that 
so little opportunity now comes our way to see even 
comparatively recent work by Pudovkin, Dovjenko, 
Donskoi and the others. We know that there is much 
film activity in the Soviet Union, but little of it has been 
given performance for us. Eisenstein's sudden death came 
as a shock to all lovers of the film, and at the Memorial 
Performance of his work in London, May 2nd last, 
organised by the Soviet Cultural Relations film section 
and the British Film Academy, it was possible to confirm 
again, if indeed confirmation were needed, the extent of 
his gift to the cinema. Let us hope that the immense 
stupidities and sometimes seemingly wilful misunder- 
standings on both sides that mark Russia's relations with 
ourselves will not continue to act as a barrier to the 
exchange of films between us. We need to see the work 
of the contemporary Soviet film-makers, if only because 
they have given so much to the screen in the past. 

It is too early yet to make any satisfactory estimate of 
what may arise in the new German cinema, although from 
what we have seen it has lost none of the technical skill 
long associated with German production. The early 
thirties were memorable, of course, for Kameradschaft, 
Westfront 1918 and M. The films made under the 
directives of Goebbels for Nazi purposes were mostly 

40 



PREFACE 

technically excellent. German films made during the war 
(some of which I was able to see in Prague in 1946) were 
dull and heavy in style. I except the overestimated Baron 
Munchhausen for its superb though mechanical trick work. 
The new films of post-war Germany will be immensely 
revealing; they should reflect what chance there is of a 
new outlook in so far as a new outlook can be formed 
under Occupation. What we have seen up till now, notably 
The Murderers are Among Us, exhibit in an exaggerated 
form the national instinct for self-pity and morbidity. 

In those countries where the film industries have been 
nationalised in the Soviet manner, a delicate process of 
balancing political aims with an expression of individual 
outlook can be observed. The Czechoslovak Film Industry, 
well equipped thanks to the German occupation, has made 
important technical strides as was seen at the Festival of 
Czechoslovak films held in London in 1947. The Yugoslavs 
and the Poles, short of equipment and experienced 
technicians, are grasping on to the documentary techniques 
because their films have so far been mostly about realistic 
themes. Much of interest may come from these new 
sources of production ; at least they can be relied upon not 
to imitate the Hollywood method. In Sweden and Denmark, 
with their long traditions of sincere and poetic film- 
making, and in Switzerland, good work has been done 
despite the limiting factor of language. Here again the 
documentary method is coming to have influence on 
entertainment production. 

But far away the most exciting films since the war have 
come from a small group of film-makers in Italy who, like 
the Russians in the mid-twenties and the British documen- 
tary movement in the thirties, have rediscovered the simple 
fact that imagination and inventiveness are worth all the 
technical paraphernalia of the luxury studios if you have 
something to say. With scanty film-stock and crude 
equipment, a handful of Italian films, of which Paisan, 
Open City, The Miracle, Terra Firma, Four Steps in the 
Clouds and Under the Roman Sun are among the most 

41 



PREFACE 

outstanding, have shown us again what vitality, sincerity 
and real skill mean in film-making. The deep passionate 
understanding of human beings, the sensitive camera 
observation found especially in Rossellini's films impel 
one to salute this fine Italian director, uninhibited by past 
traditions, as one of the most important figures in world 
cinema in recent years. His spontaneous method of 
working, his refusal to use a hard and fast script, above all 
his remarkable capacity for improvisation on the spot are 
reminiscent of cinema's earliest days. In Italy, he has 
many imitators but none so far shares his skill for shaping 
reality at first hand. Next to him, Visconti and Castellani 
reveal great talent and if left to develop their own futures 
they will undoubtedly create important work. 

The serious danger which the new Italian cinema faces 
is from without. Companies from America and Britain 
with lire to spend have discovered Italy as a wonderful 
exterior location. An exploited Italian Film Industry for 
the benefit of Hollywood and London will surely try to 
sidetrack the fresh, unorthodox vitality of the new genera- 
tion of Italian film-makers. It will spoil their writers, 
inhibit the enthusiasm of their technicians and make the 
methods of the Rossellinis impossible. 

The desire to make films of this kind, films which not 
only demonstrate the real uses of the cinema but which 
contribute to world thought and world affairs, is not 
exclusively Italian. It exists in Britain especially, but is 
frustrated by difficulties of access to the means of produc- 
tion and distribution. The only alternative so far to 
speculative production or to a nationalised Film Industry 
is that pursued by the documentary film-makers in their 
discovery of sponsorship. 

The past twenty years have seen developed, mainly in 
Great Britain, an economic basis for film-making alternative 
to the speculative investment of capital for profit return. 
As is well-known, the system of sponsorship of films by 
governments, municipalities, foundations, big national 
industries and others has been based on a realisation of the 

42 



PREFACE 

immense persuasive uses of the screen. That is to say it 
is the only method of financial film-backing that does not 
depend on substantial profits from the box-office. Let us 
be honest about this. Sponsorship has many dangers, not 
only the risk that the intentions of the sponsor may not 
always coincide with those of the film-maker, but also that 
the spending of money derived from public funds, as in 
the case of officially-sponsored films, can involve bureau- 
cratic control. Such control can be as frustrating to 
initiative in the film-maker as the box-office demands of the 
commercial producer or the totalitarian directives of a 
nationalised industry. 

Since the largest and longest-lived movement of spon- 
sored production has taken place in Britain, I may be 
pardoned for examining in detail what some of its problems 
have been and still are. Documentary films may only 
occupy a small proportion of the world's total screen- 
space but their influence is wide. Their continuity of 
production over twenty unbroken years represents the only 
example of a planned policy in film-making over a sustained 
period that the cinema has yet known. If it is true, as some 
say, that British documentary has now reached a moment 
of standstill, even of decline, then at least it has behind it 
this record of twenty years of public service, twenty years 
of creative work, and twenty years of attempting to use the 
screen for more profound purposes than making profits and 
casually amusing people. 

Since 1928 the growth of the British documentary 
movement has been related inseparably to the task of 
public information. In its pursuit of public service, it has 
avoided the normal cupidity of commercial production. 
Several hundred craftsmen and trained technicians have 
grown up in this tradition. This applies equally to the 
British Government's Crown Film Unit (which had its 
origins in the Empire Marketing Board and Post Office 
Film Units) and to the groups of small units operated 
privately devoting their work to documentary, educational 
and informational production. 

43 



PREFACE 

The history and internal structure of the movement has 
been told elsewhere, 1 but to understand its present position 
we should remember that the British documentary makers 
were employed almost exclusively by the Ministry of 
Information and the Service departments during the war, 
thereby enjoying a certain degree of economic security 
which had been unknown before 1940. On the whole film- 
makers believed in the films they were asked to make as part 
of their national service. Considerable latitude was given 
as to treatment and technique by the official sponsors. From 
an economic point of view it meant that the documentary 
companies came inevitably to rely on Government sponsor- 
ship for their livelihood. Only a very few of the non- 
Governmental sponsors continued their financing of films 
during the war years, and such films tended to become less 
and less concerned with socially important subjects. 

Although such films as Desert Victory, Western 
Approaches and the memorably magnificent The True 
Glory were successful at the box-office (by which I mean 
that they were booked well; not that, they made a profit) 2 
during the war years, this did not in any degree help to 
open up the commercial market to documentaries when the 
war was over. While I think it is true that documentary 
makers have found it difficult to dramatise effectively the 
subjects of peacetime post-war Britain so that such films 
evoke response in the cinemas, at the same time the rooted 
hostility of the Trade to allowing its screens to be used for 
any other purposes than entertainment in the Trade's mean- 
ing of the word did not encourage the speculative production 
of post-war documentaries. It did not matter what warm 
response documentary films received from the Press and, 
when they were shown, from the public audience, the Trade 
disliked the very idea of documentary in the cinemas for 
reasons given earlier. Thus, the producers found them- 

1 The Arts Enquiry Report on The Factual Film (Oxford University 
Press, 1947) has the most up-to-date record. 

2 It will probably never be possible to measure the British Treasury's 
receipts against the cost of these films because so much of the latter 
was incalculable owing to Service rates of pay, free facilities, etc. 

44 



PREFACE 

selves mainly relying, just as in the war, on what films the 
new Labour Government through its newly- founded Central 
Office of Information required and what sponsors would 
continue production in an economy that held the nation 
in its grip. 

The Central Office of Information which succeeded 
the Ministry of Information in May, 1946, has had some 
severe criticism made of it. On its side, excuses and alibis 
have been all too readily found. It is not a Ministry. It is 
subject to more rigid controls than its predecessor, and so 
on. The fact remains that the British Labour Govern- 
ment's film production programme, like its overall publicity, 
has not as yet been conceived on a national level or geared 
to the realities of Britain's position in world affairs. 
It has lacked imagination and confidence. The Central 
Office has to date pursued a policy that has brought a sense 
of frustration among even the toughest of documen- 
tary film-makers. Added to that, the interminable delays 
by committees and the financial disagreements apparently 
inescapable in the making of Government films have done 
much to bring British documentary into its present much- 
criticised position. With the cinemas virtually closed to 
any speculative production, with the economic uncertainty 
of post-war official sponsorship, with the reluctance of non- 
official sponsors to underwrite productions of a socially 
significant kind, is it any wonder that British documentary 
has lost something of its vitality and inventiveness since 
the war? 

The documentary makers themselves are not wholly with- 
out blame. The obsession for regarding documentary film- 
making as a movement first and foremost has had the effect 
of suppressing the individual. Films are made by indivi- 
duals, not by movements, a matter to which I shall return 
later. It is immensely important — and of considerable 
historic cinematic interest — that through the documentary 
method a whole school of film-making has been built up. 
That documentary makers the world over have common 
interests is expressed through the World Union of Docu- 

45 



PREFACE 

mentary founded in Brussels, June 1947. That documentary 
needs have created methods of training and graduation 
unknown in other branches of the Film Industry is accepted. 
Equally important, a method of access to means of 
production by sponsorship as distinct from speculation has 
been established, and a substantial new audience has been 
gathered in the non-theatrical field. Documentary has 
achieved these things through being a movement with all 
the power and influence that this can mean. 

At the same time, the needs of mass-production during 
the war years, when documentary producers were called 
upon to quadruple their output, has had the bad effect of 
standardising techniques and styles. The rapid growth 
of non- theatrical consumer needs, the policy to put out 
film after film into the cinemas often under a system of 
free-distribution, undoubtedly robbed documentary of some 
of its vitality. This is a criticism which can be made with 
fairness not only of British production but of the product 
of the National Film Board of Canada. The latter built 
up supremely well its highly-organised non-theatrical 
machinery and had excellent outlet in the cinemas of North 
America. But to meet this regular demand for its films 
it resorted to formula-produced pictures, in line with 
March of Time and the other screen magazines. Group 
production of this kind can be as cramping to the artist 
as the formula-conceived pictures from the studio assembly- 
line. If too much emphasis is put on uniform output, the 
creative and aesthetic urge is bound to suffer whatever the 
field. The individual contribution gets submerged in the 
group endeavour. 

Moreover, I do not believe that we ever meant the term 
1 documentary ' to cover such a multitude of sins as it is 
made to do to-day. What has in actuality occurred since 
those days twenty years ago is that there has been a 
need, greatly stimulated by the war, for many different 
types of factual and informational films calling for many 
divergent types of technique; but because most but not all 
of these films have used actual material and real people as 

46 



PREFACE 

distinct from sets and professional actors in the studio, the 
term documentary has been stretched to embrace them all. 

The growth of non-theatrical distribution in the United 
Kingdom, and for factual British films overseas, the similar 
and even more impressive work in this field that has been 
done in Canada, Australia and the United States, is 
immensely encouraging and vital to documentary's future 
development in all its forms. Film distribution of this kind 
will one day enter into every sphere of civic activity and 
education. While I am the last person to deny this impor- 
tance of the film for non-theatrical exhibition, with all its 
growing specific tasks of education, information and expla- 
nation, I nevertheless believe that it would be a thousand 
pities if the chapel-like atmosphere that has been allowed to 
enshroud the non-theatrical side of documentary were per- 
mitted to overshadow the virile, impulsive desires that give 
rise to the dramatic documentary which can inspire the 
millions in the ordinary cinemas. 

The immediate post-war years of British documentary 
will not shine brightly when the overall story comes to be 
told. Its exponents have had inevitably to court official 
sponsorship because of the scarcity of other backing. 
More than ever dependent on Government support, British 
documentary has had to make concessions to bureaucracy 
which have temporarily damaged its quality. 1 

While discussing documentary, opportunity must be 
taken to make reference, if only briefly, to one or two 
events which have taken place overseas in this side of the 
Industry. Of outstanding importance was the founding of 
the National Film Board of Canada early in the war. The 
Board may well be held up as an example to other countries 
in the use of all visual media for education and informa- 
tion, provided that the dangers of standardised product 
are avoided. Although its technicians are still young and 
still learning, they have turned out a steady programme 
of short films of which they may well be proud. At the 

1 The recent appointment of John Grierson as Films Controller at the 
Central Office of Information may conceivably improve the position. 

47 



PREFACE 

same time, the Board has taken films out to rural audiences 
and developed a worthwhile non-theatrical distribution and 
demand that is a model. Our own Central Office could 
learn much from it in this field. One day possibly we shall 
see the other Dominions with such Film Boards. Australia 
already has the beginnings of such a body but with progress 
to date not comparable with Canada. 

Another development which must be included here was 
the sudden flowering of American documentary to meet the 
needs of war. Richard Griffith describes this at some 
length 1 but I must record my own respect for the fine work 
of those from Hollywood and elsewhere who were anony- 
mously behind the making of such magnificent films as The 
Fighting Lady, The Battle of San Pietro, Let There Be 
Light, and of course, the famous Why We Fight series 
which provoked even the Soviet cinematographers to praise. 
It was as if the war suddenly gave to these men a release 
from Hollywood for which they had long been waiting. 
It is all the more sad that they have in most cases returned 
to the field of entertainment films where their work, 
interesting as it must always be, has not the same force as 
it had temporarily in their imaginative war documentaries. 

If the difficulties of sponsorship, distribution and 
standardisation on which I have dwelt can be overcome, 
documentary has unlimited fields in which to develop into 
the future. But its films must be more human, warmer and 
full of understanding. As well as the vast programme of 
factual films required for national and international educa- 
tion, there must also be the individually-made film, the work 
of observation, impassioned in subject and theme. In the 
British Commonwealth of Nations, especially in the new 
Africa, there are themes to be filmed which open out our 
imaginations and our sense of drama. Documentary, 
particularly in Great Britain, has become too parochial. 
The work of the United Nations Film Board, so deeply 
inspiring in its original aims and manifestos, seems to have 
got bogged down in rather dull, flatly-made little pictures 

1 Vide, pages 460-464. 

48 



PREFACE 

lacking real international breadth, width and stature. 
Perhaps out of the new generation of documentary film- 
makers growing up to-day there will emerge new Flahertys, 
new Ivens's and new Basil Wrights who will go out to 
make films uninhibited by departments and committees and 
minor officials, to say nothing of internal intrigue. 

* 
The problem of the expression of the individual mind 
in film-making (except in the simplest of films such as 
Nanook or Drifters) has grown with the complex tech- 
nological methods that are involved in production, and with 
the commercial needs of the Industry's promoters with 
their goal of world audiences. The more the film has 
become an Industry of magnitude and a powerful factor 
in world trade bargaining, the more carefully must we 
search for its creative impulses. 

It is frequently held by screen-writers that they are the 
real creators of films in that they conceive the original 
characters and events which finally take shape in the finished 
film, and that the director and his team only carry out the 
writer's instructions. Although I respect highly the task 
of the screen-writer, especially when he or she writes 
originally and not merely adapts, and admit that he is 
frequently undervalued and underworked, I would suggest 
that only the director can be the main creative mind that 
really gives life and breath and emotion and meaning 
to the writer's ideas. The influence of the writer over the 
director can be extremely powerful, as for example the 
relationship between Prevert and Carne, Pressburger and 
Powell, Riskin and Capra, Nichols and Ford, and even 
Amidei or Fellini and Rossellini. Nevertheless, it is the 
director who remains in our mind when we think back 
over the films of these teams. 

A good story can be ruined by a hack, rule-of- thumb 
director; a poor story can be made at least interesting 
technically by an imaginative director with his unlimited 
power over the instruments of the medium. 1 In practice, it 

1 Naked City is an example of the; latter. 

49 4 



PREFACE 

has been generally found that a small team of the key film- 
makers — the director, writer, cameraman, designer, with 
the producer as a sort of father-confessor — is the most 
desirable way of working with a good deal of generous 
give and take between them. The writer of an original 
story for a film is often without the technical experience 
(which certainly involves first-hand knowledge of editing 
shot to shot) to prepare a shooting-script. The writer 
engaged to adapt a novel or a play for the screen may be 
capable of taking it to treatment stage, but he needs techni- 
cal experience to take it further into shot form. There are 
very few writers in motion pictures, as far as I know, who 
have actual physical experience of piecing shot against 
shot, of moulding form from fragments of film which 
is the final process that brings dead celluloid to life. In a 
careful survey of the outstanding films of the past forty 
years, I can think of only one writer whose influence spread 
far outside the actual words that he put on paper — the late 
Carl Mayer. But as Pommer and Freund remind us, 
Mayer did not end his work with the written script but kept 
in the closest touch all through with the shooting and 
editing of a film. In fact, he became a member of the 
production unit. 1 In the same way, Rossellini's main 
writer, Sergio Amidei, is constantly present during all the 
shooting, inventing dialogue and situations while the film 
is in progress acording to the possibilities of the locations. 
This improvisation and spontaneity is the secret of much 
of Rossellini's vital approach. 

A recent tendency in feature production, especially in 
Britain, is for writers themselves to become directors. I 
applaud the move if the writer has first had a good sound 
training in the cutting-room. The writer-director who 
brings an editor on to the studio-floor to help him select his 
camera set-ups, and to tell him when to start and when to 
cut action seems to me to be avoiding his responsibilities 
(and his pleasures) as a director. It is phoney film-making. 

I once wrote that the ultimate test of a film director is 

1 Vide, Appendix IV, pp. 711-713, 716. 

50 



PREFACE 

to put him alone with a camera in a ploughed field and 
get him to make a film about it. To-day, many directors 
are so overpowered by the team with which they work that 
they become merely a skilled technician. The significant 
director is he whose personality, tastes and outlook on life 
as well as his store of knowledge emerge from the complex 
process of film-making. One knows that many skilled and 
gifted persons contributed to the making of a film like Great 
Expectations or The Fallen Idol or The Miracle, but 
through each of these films comes clearly and unmistakably 
the signature of Lean, Reed and Rossellini. I like a piece 
written about Rossellini by Hugh Barty-King : * He 
"dreams up " a film in his mind's eye, and that's the eye that 
will orientate the whole production. There will be no other 
" eyes " earlier or later on in the long-drawn-out process of 
production to upset the balance, composition or meaning of 
the picture as first conceived. It will be his creation/ 1 

It would be impossible to imagine that The Miracle had 
been directed by, say, George Cukor; or that Hamlet had 
been made by, say, Fritz Lang; or that Alexander Korda 
had been responsible for Crossfire; or that Flaherty had 
made Odd Man Out. Yet in the group-movement of docu- 
mentary mentioned earlier, it is often hard to tell these days 
who directed what. The standardised, almost inhuman 
product seems to have become the ideal of some of the 
younger documentary group in their desire to suppress 
personality. That is why the adult work of Flaherty, 
Ivens and Rossellini stands out with such strength. 

Nevertheless, the technical processes of the medium are 
such that it appears that the skill of a film director must 
lie not only in his own gifts of filmic expression but in the 
capacity as well to organise and co-ordinate and inspire 
the skills of his fellow-workers. The more elaborate the 
picture in its technical requirements, the more essential 
becomes this capacity for co-ordination. The immense 
array of technical equipment, the double-figure staff of 
technicians and assistants each with their watertight Union- 

1 Documentary '47 (Albyn Press, 1947). 

51 



PREFACE 

defined jobs, the corps of electricians, carpenters, painters, 
plasterers, property-men and others, who although not 
answerable to the director are nevertheless contributors 
to what finally goes on the screen, the intricate processes of 
photography and recording, of developing and processing, 
and above all the fantastic cost of it all — can build up an 
iron curtain between the director and what eventually 
reaches the screen as his creation. The length of time in 
production also means that months possibly will elapse 
between the time when he visualises a sequence of shots 
in his working script and the time when he sees them 
assembled and projected. For months he must carry about 
in his mind a clear vision of what he expects it will all 
look like. He may well wish he were back in that 
ploughed field, camera in hand, and not a soul in sight. 
Small wonder that some directors flourish neuroses like 
mink-coats. 

When Van Gogh walked along that sunny road near 
Aries, carrying canvas and paints and stool, he was free 
to set up his easel and paint as he felt inspired. Between 
him and his subject, and between his subject and his canvas 
there lay only his skill and his colours. But the film-maker, 
even pursuing the simple ways of a Flaherty or a Rossellini, 
is dependent on a myriad of materials and processes outside 
his control. The creator in films has an enormous task 
between the script and the screen. 



The film is fundamentally an art based on observation. 
True observation is only obtained at first-hand. A film 
significant and affirmatory of life, can be called a micro- 
cosm of a microcosm. Thus it is imperative for film-makers 
(particularly producers, directors and writers) never to lose 
touch with the realities of living. Film-making can easily 
become such a one-track activity that its exponents tend to 
segregate themselves away from everyday activities. The 
very need to concentrate on their work limits their field of 
experience. I suggest that Wyler was only able to make 

52 



PREFACE 

The Best Years of Our Lives with sincerity and under- 
standing because he had in his Service capacity probably 
mixed on equal terms with hundreds of Americans facing 
demobilisation, and was in contact with the confused 
emotions with which they faced reabsorption into civilian 
life. Compare him with Wyler making Mrs. Miniver, who 
knew and understood at first hand little of what he was 
trying to express. Carol Reed's The True Glory, Rossellini's 
Open City and Paisan were of people and events and 
environments which had been experienced. 

Here, perhaps, in this context is the right place to say 
a word about the often-discussed fusion of the documentary 
approach with the fiction entertainment film. The possible 
merging of the two has given rise to some confused specu- 
lation. It is certainly true that a few British fiction films, 
such as Millions Like Us and The Way Ahead, derived 
something from documentary during the war. It should also 
be remembered that the war itself demanded that some 
subjects for entertainment films should be drawn from 
reality. The Ministry of Information had as one of its 
main aims the influencing of subjects for commercial studio 
production. Technicians employed in the feature studios 
were just as much working under terms of temporary 
deferment from military service as were the documentary 
people; and some of them felt, I believe, that their films, 
although coming under the category of entertainment, 
should none the less be a direct contribution to the war 
effort. 

In perspective, however, some of the British films so often 
quoted as being examples of the fiction-documentary 
marriage were ' documentary ' only in the sense that their 
subjects were typical of something which had happened, 
and that from time to time units left their studios and shot 
in actual surroundings. I have in mind In Which We Serve, 
One of Our Aircraft is Missing and San Demetrio, films 
which in my opinion were much overpraised and, on 
rescreening, reveal a crude and even amateur approach to 
the observation of reality. The bulk in each was, in any 

53 



PREFACE 

case, studio-shot. It should be made very clear that the 
mere use of real backgrounds in a film instead of studio 
reconstruction does not constitute * documentary \ Recent 
British films like Broken Journey, Holiday Camp, The 
Brothers and Daybreak had genuine exteriors, but could not 
by any stretch of kindness be called documentary in 
approach, method or purpose. To transport actors, techni- 
cians, equipment and all the paraphernalia of the studio into 
a real street, or a real house, or to real countryside and to let 
the fictitious action take place there does not in itself induce 
a sense of realism. It just doesn't happen like that. Actors 
and their actions must have a sense of belonging to that 
place, must grow out of it, and implanting that essence is 
the art of the realist director. From his experience, from his 
power to observe, from his ability to merge players and 
action with environment will come the creative inter- 
pretation of reality, an understanding of the Tightness of 
things, of things all of a piece, of things belonging. 

That is the real essence of the art of Rossellini ; the skill 
with which he blends actors with non-actors and lets the 
whole film emerge from actual surroundings. He does not 
worry his head about marrying ' documentary ' with 
4 fiction \ He believes only that cinema is the art of 
representing reality and he goes as far as possible to 
reality with his camera and microphone in exactly the 
opposite manner to such a film as London Belongs to Me. 
He believes that cinema is only at the very beginning of 
discovering drama set in reality, and that the claustrophobic 
methods of the studio which have bedevilled film-making 
for so long are the reason why so many films have been 
theatrical, literary and artificial instead of cinematic. 

In this Rossellini is not doing anything new. The use 
of reality dates back to the beginning of the cinema. Sennett 
in his early comedies worked just as the Italians do to-day. 
Renoir in Toni did the same. Rossellini is simply carrying 
out in practice what so many people have written and talked 
about for the past twenty years. It is what de Rochemont 
did in Boomerang and Dassin in Naked City. The 

54 



PREFACE 

documentary directors have been making films by these 
methods for years. Jill Craigie's The Way We Live, 
Watt's Bill Blezvitt, Holmes's Merchant Seamen and The 
Centre, to name only a few from the British group, all 
attempted the method but were not able financially to 
extend to feature-length conceptions. What Rossellini has 
done is to blend into an indivisible unity the fictional incident 
and its realistic expression, and done it with immense effect 
because of his own dynamic and persuasive personality 
coupled with his inherent sense of cinema. His habits of 
working would not be practicable in America or England ; 
Union rules alone would thwart his whole approach. His 
small unit, limited to essential people, is less like a team 
of film technicians than a circus troupe in which anyone 
does anything as need arises. The success of the picture 
comes before all else. 

Carol Reed's The Way Ahead is fresh and purposeful 
after four years because it had real documentary meaning. 
It did not stem from a commercial studio but was inspired, 
conceived and executed mainly by technicians in uniform, 
given temporary release to produce the film through a 
commercial company, the whole idea deriving from an Army 
educational film called The New Lot. The major 
commercially-made British films attempting with some 
success to use documentary methods were The Foreman 
Went to France (one of the best of all war films), The 
Gentle Sex (a little theatrical and self-conscious), Millions 
Like Us and Nine Men. The often-quoted Launder- 
Gilliat film came to recognisable life in its factory sections 
only; the pre-war family life sequences, which occupied 
considerable footage, were gauche and embarrassing. Nine 
Men, like The Way Ahead, was a genuine work of film 
creation and, although partly studio-shot and reconstructed, 
lives remarkably freshly. Those who may have seen Zoltan 
Korda's Hollywood-made Sahara on the same subject 
would immediately have detected the fundamental differ- 
ences between the two approaches. In my view, Sahara 
had all the phoney characteristics of a studio-made product, 

55 



PREFACE 

Harry Watt is the only film-maker from the British 
documentary group so far to be strong enough to make an 
impact on the studio-mind. Wisely, perhaps, he has 
operated from distant Australia on his last two pictures, 
although his producer, Michael Balcon, obviously believes 
in what his director is trying to achieve. With a fine record 
of films — Night Mail, Bill Blezvitt, North Sea, Squadron 
992, Target for Tonight, Nine Men and The Overlanders 
— Watt has shown more understanding of the need for 
human qualities in documentary than any other British 
director. By the other documentary makers who have 
entered the commercial field, little influence has been 
exerted; if anything, the tendency has been the other way 
round. It is yet to be fully understood, I suggest, that the 
essential difference between fiction entertainment pictures 
and documentary is not only a difference in technical method 
(important though this is), but also a difference in approach 
to subject, indeed in the very reason why the director is 
making the film at all. Films such as Boomerang and 
Open City and The Miracle, documentary in technique, 
were nevertheless films produced on a commercial basis and 
made for money and entertainment, though entertainment 
was not the sole object in view. Yet the important purpose 
behind each, an expression of social outlook that is un- 
common in the ordinary commercial picture, in no way 
detracted from their special appeal at the box-office. 

It is to be deeply regretted that the British directors 
from the commercial studios who grasped and developed 
the realistic approach during the war should, like some 
of their American confreres, have turned back to purely 
fictional films, theatrically conceived and exhibiting no sign 
of their brush with reality, as soon as peace came. Contrast 
Reed in The True Glory and Odd Man Out, the Boultings 
in Journey Together (or Burma Victory) and Fame is the 
Spur, Asquith in We Dive at Dawn and Fanny by Gaslight, 
Launder and Gilliat in Millions Like Us and London Be- 
longs to Me. Hopes of a significant British cinema began to 
fade when realism gave way to the romantic and theatrical. 

56 



PREFACE 

To be technically brilliant in cinema to-day is not in itself 
enough. It is the use to which this skill is put which is 
the real test. Trite stories, geared to a 'teen-age level, 
will no longer hold for the technical mastery of our young 
directors or of those in other countries. Thus a fundamental 
question arises which can only be answered by their future 
films : Have they, talented with their skilful techniques, 
anything they want to express, or is their sole aim that of 
entertainment for its own sake? Are they seeking to per- 
petuate the ideology expressed by Mr. Terry Ramsaye 
quoted earlier, or have they any such aims in world cinema 
as Renoir, Rossellini, Wyler, Huston, Dmytryk, Chaplin, 
or Flaherty? That is something they must face. In all 
the booms and slumps of British films in thirty years, how 
very, very few have reflected anything of the mood and 
movement of their times. 



This is the moment, especially in Britain, to emphasise 
and plead urgently for the need to experiment. Without 
new ideas and themes, new and vigorous personnel, new 
ways of using the camera and the microphone, new 
inspirations and incentives, the business of picture-making 
will decline. This is as true of documentaries, newsreels 
and cartoons as it is of feature production. We should 
always remember that when film-making in the past has 
become standardised and mass-manufactured, it has not 
taken long for the box-office to reflect the public's 
indifference. When stereotyped, rule-of- thumb methods 
dominate production, and films become the assembly-line 
output of departments or committees, audiences inevitably 
begin to dwindle, whether it be in the cinema or the village 
hall. That happened in entertainment films towards the end 
of the twenties as a result of Hollywood's standardised 
methods : it happened again some ten years later when the 
talking film tended to become mere illustrated gramophone 
records and only the war intervened ; it is happening now. 

The fine flowering of the French cinema in the middle 

57 



PREFACE 

thirties came out of the experimental avant-garde period 
just previous ; the renaissance of the British cinema during 
the war could never have happened if there had not been 
the experimental work of the documentary group before the 
war; the British documentary group in turn had learnt 
from the pioneer work of the Russians and of Flaherty. 
One hears of new avant-garde groups in America to-day, 
and the news is welcome. I wish we could say the same of 
Britain. I wish that the two millions which we are told 
have been lost on ' prestige ' films, which added so little 
to our knowledge of cinema, had been spent on a few 
modestly-budgeted experimental films. I know that Mr. 
Rank has financed the Independent Frame method, films 
for children and a large new animation unit, but that is not 
what I mean. Experiment in stories and subjects, in styles 
and techniques, will always pay in the long run. But then, 
few producers look further ahead than this year's schedule. 
In feature, documentary, cartoon and newsreel, experiment 
is needed to-day more than ever before. Nothing will 
satisfy me until I hear that a proportion of each year's 
production budget at the major studios is set aside for 
experiment; not only to bring on new creative craftsmen, 
but to allow, just for once, some of the established film- 
makers to do what they feel passionately urged to do with 
the screen-medium. Such a policy would pay rich dividends 
in next year's normal product, and even richer twelve 

months later. 

* 

The year in which this book is being revised is with- 
out doubt the most critical of many critical years in the 
British Film Industry. Events have already taken place, 
and others are occurring as this is written, that will change 
and shape the whole future of British films for progress 
or decline. The placing on the Statute Book of the new 
Cinematograph Films Act has given a speck of hope to the 
independent producer by legislation that provides circuit 
bookings on fair terms to a set number of independent 
feature films a year. The Film Finance Corporation should 

58 



PREFACE 

eventually ease the economic difficulties of the independent 
producer. The forty-five per cent, quota should encourage 
producers both big and small. The four-year agreement 
between the American Motion Picture Association and the 
British Government should also provide more screen-space 
for British pictures, but may restrict the playing of our 
films in America ; but we should strenuously resist here any 
attempt to influence our subjects and styles by Hollywood. 
The establishment of a Committee of Enquiry into Exhibi- 
tion, if well set up and with full powers to investigate 
the facts, can be the first practical move towards the 
highly-desirable aim of separating production from exhibi- 
tion interests. 

In the non-theatrical field, the establishment with 
Government aid of an Educational Foundation for Visual 
Aids can either break the vicious circle of films in 
schools or set back the use of school films for ten 
years, according to what policy of sponsorship and 
distribution is adopted. The Report on the future of the 
British Film Institute (rather a mild document) can lead 
to a reorganisation, reconstitution and reassessment of that 
potentially important but inept body. The passing of the 
Local Government Act can open up a new era of munici- 
pally-owned cinemas if local authorities have the initiative 
to use fully the powers given them. Finally, the setting 
up of the British Film Academy can bring to the Industry 
some of that dignity and critical perspective which have 
been so notably absent all these years. 

These are factors each of which will have direct bearing 
on the future of films in the many spheres of production, 
distribution and exhibition, both in the public cinemas and 
in the ever-growing field of non-theatrical performance. 
Their effects will presumably engage the close attention of 
all serious followers of the cinema, as well as of those 
actively involved. 

With this book, as with the first edition eighteen years 
ago, we arrive at a turning-point in cinema. Hollywood 

59 



PREFACE 

has partially retained its hold over the British market, has 
temporarily (we hope) restricted native production in 
France, and has retained a very considerable control over 
what is shown throughout the Commonwealth, despite 
important inroads made there by Mr. Rank. But that is 
only part of the picture. The attention being paid to the 
cinema by the United Nations Organisation and its agencies, 
especially Unesco; the existence of National Film Boards 
in the two great countries of Canada and Australia; the 
fact that every day the film is being more widely discussed 
and understood — these things mean that eventually and 
inevitably an overpowering demand will arise that the 
screen be used for fuller purposes than it is used to-day. 
Across the world, from East to West, arise vast new 
audiences for films, the meeting of which has scarcely 
entered the calculations of any existing film industry. Old 
generations of film-makers will go their way, but all the 
time new young audiences are forming. They will not be 
content to let their mental inferiors dominate the screen. 

* 

I cannot end these notes without paying tribute to three 
men who, each in their own way when they were alive, 
made their contribution to cinema and influenced my 
thinking. Eric Knight, a Yorkshireman with the fire and 
faith of England in him, was the best critic of films ever to 
write in an American newspaper. His letters from Holly- 
wood in 1936 unforgettably document and indict that 
phantasmagoria of frustrated talent. Carl Mayer contribu- 
ted more than anyone to the whole Golden Period of the 
German Cinema. And Otto Neurath, who of all others I 
have met, understood most fully how the film could extend 
the consciousness of the international man-in-the-street. 

These three men widened my experience and helped to 
open my eyes to the manifold ways in which the film, once 
its infinite techniques are mastered, can enrich and reward 
all human beings. 

London Paul Rotha 

August, 1948 

60 



ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS 

In addition to the acknowledgements made in the first 
edition of this book, which do not need to be reprinted, 
I am indebted in this revised edition to the many people 
who from time to time since 1930 have pointed out errors 
of fact in the original text. From many parts of the world, 
correspondents have sent valuable information and the new 
text has, as far as possible, been changed to meet their facts. 
My thanks are especially due to the directors and staffs 
of the Museum of Modern Art Film Library, New York, 
the Cinematheque Franchise, Paris, the National Film 
Library, London, Dansk Kulturfilm, Copenhagen, the 
Czechoslovak Film Institute, Prague, and the National 
Board of Review of Motion Pictures, New York, for their 
unlimited help. These bodies, which are doing such fine 
work in the preservation of films, making them available 
for study, collecting data about film history and generally 
aiding in creating a wider appreciation of good films, have 
supplied me with much factual information and loaned still- 
photographs. 

The book has been mainly re-illustrated and acknowledge- 
ments are due to the following companies, past and present, 
for permission to reproduce their stills : Albatross-Sequana, 
Arquis Film, British International Pictures, British 
National Pictures, Charles Chaplin Film Corporation, Cine- 
Alliance, Cinegraphie Documentaire, Cineguild, Columbia 
Pictures, Contemporary Historians Incorporated, Coopera- 
tive Generate du Cinema Franqais, Crown Film Unit, 
Dafu-film, Defu-film, Deutsche Film-Gemeinschaft, Ealing 
Studios, Elekta Film Slavia, Empire Marketing Board Film 
Unit, Films Marcel Pagnol, Films of Fact, First-National, 
Fox Film Corporation, Frontier Films, G.B. Instructional 
Ltd., G.P.O. Film Unit, Grafton Films, Hakim Brothers, 
Lenfilm, London Film Productions, Mejrabpom-Russ, 

61 



ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS 

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Minerva Films, Mosfilm, Neofilm, 
Nerofilm, Nordisk, Organizzazione Films Internazionali, 
Palladium-Film, Paramount Picture Corporation, Paul 
Rotha Productions, Photosonor, Prana-Film, Realisations 
d'Art Cinematographic, R.K.O.-Radio Pictures, Robert 
Flaherty Productions, Selznick-International Pictures, 
Sigma-Frogerais, S.N. Pathe-Cinema, Societe Generate de 
Films, Sokal-film, Sovkino, Soyuzdetfilm, Svenska-Biograf, 
Tobis Regina, Transcontinental, Twentieth Century-Fox, 
Two Cities Films, Ufa, United Artists, Universal, U.S. 
Department of Agriculture, Vostok-kino, Vufku-kino, 
Warner Brothers. 

For the design of the wrapper I am obliged to Mr. Peter 
Bradford, whose good taste in these matters has greatly 
added to the book's appearance. 

P.R. 



62 



1930 

TO THOSE 

AMONG CINEMA 

AUDIENCES 

WHO WONDER WHY 

AND THINK HOW 



1949 

TO ALL THOSE WHO ARE READY TO RECEIVE 

A BETTER KIND OF FILM IF ONLY PRODUCERS, 

RENTERS AND EXHIBITORS WILL HAVE 

THE COMMON SENSE TO PROVIDE THEM 



PART ONE 
THE ACTUAL 



I 

THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE FILM 

The development of the film may be regarded from three 
different points of view : the Scientific, the Commercial, 
and the Aesthetic. 

The first is concerned with the mechanical advance of the 
instrument and its technicalities, dealing with the workings 
of the projector, the intricate mechanism of the camera, the 
various methods of sound reproduction by discs or sound- 
strip 1 on film. These it is not proposed to consider, except 
where the actual machinery of the instrument has direct 
bearing on the expression of the theme which the film is 
unfolding. 

The second covers the amazing growth of the film as an 
industry, which here will be briefly recorded. 

And the third views the progress which the film has made 
since its birth as a medium of dramatic expression, including 
its limits and its delimits. It is with this aesthetic aspect of 
the cinema that this survey is primarily concerned. 

Except historically and technically, the birth and early 
years of the cinema are neither interesting nor particularly 
brilliant in aesthetic achievement. Accounts of financial 
successes and failures in tawdry commercialism are 
depressing. It suffices to mention a few salient facts and 
dates in order to gain a perspective of the position to-day 
without undue tedium. 

(a) The Commercial Development of the Film 

It seems generally agreed that, for all practical purposes, 
Edison started the ball rolling in 1887. Having perfected 
the phonograph, he desired to supplement the sound images 
with another mechanical device which would present visual 
images alongside those of sound. It is extraordinary to 

1 For definitions of these and other technicalities, such as sound or 
visual image, etc., see the Glossary in Appendix II. 

67 



THE ACTUAL 

observe that this ambition of Edison, which brought the 
film into being, is precisely the opposite to the aim of the 
present-day producer, who attempts to supplement his visual 
images with their recorded sounds. This astonishing fact is 
worth serious consideration. The visual film was thought 
necessary to accompany the sound record. Fifty years later, 
sound is deemed necessary to accompany the visual film. 
Many dialogue films made since 1930 have been, in fact, 
glorified, illustrated, gramophone records. 

Edison's first efforts apparently resulted in pictures of 
microscopic size in spirals upon a cylinder, somewhat similar 
to the early gramophone record. Some time later, strips of 
film were made out of collodion and experiments were also 
carried out with celluloid, but it was not until samples of 
the first Eastman-Kodak film, constructed on a nitro- 
cellulose base, were obtained by Edison in 1889 that the 
original cinema machine came into being. This was called 
the Kinetoscope. Experiments proceeded in Edison's 
laboratory at West Orange, until at length it was possible 
for one person at a time to look through the peephole of 
the machine and to see a series of pictures, some fifty feet 
in length, representing a person in movement — jerky and 
interrupted, perhaps, but nevertheless movement. It is said 
that the first actual cinematic record was that of a sneeze, 
performed by an assistant in the laboratory, one Fred Ott, 
whose name surely will go down to posterity on this account 
alone. 

In 1894, the Edison kinetoscope was presented com- 
mercially to the New York public, and hundreds of these 
machines were sold in the open market. The subjects of 
Edison's films made at his laboratory were chiefly boxing- 
matches, dances, and variety turns, all of which were suit- 
able to show off the capabilities of the new invention on 
account of their movement. But the limitation of these 
films being viewed by only one person at a time gave rise 
to a demand for a machine like a magic lantern, which 
would project the pictures on to a screen so that they could 
be seen by a whole roomful of people, Edison, however, 

68 



THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE FILM 

disliked the proposal, believing that collective showings 
would rapidly exhaust the market, and he omitted even to 
patent his device in foreign countries. 

Meanwhile, other experiments were in progress in 
Europe, all of them aiming at a combination of Edison's 
kinetoscope with the magic lantern, for the projection of 
the film on to a screen. A year later, in 1895, Woodville 
Latham gave public demonstrations in America of a projec- 
tor using the kinetoscope film pictures, but the process was 
crude and unsuccessful. About the same time both Robert 
Paul in London and the Lumiere brothers in Paris, inspired 
by the exhibition of Edison's device in their respective cities, 
brought out projectors; Paul exhibiting his at Olympia and 
the Alhambra in the following year. 1 The principle upon 
which the modern projector is based, however, is that of 
Thomas Armat's machine, which was shown publicly for 
the first time at the Cotton States' Exposition at Atlanta, 
Georgia, in September of 1895. Armat's Vitascope, which 
was illegitimately coupled with Edison's name for box-office 
reasons, was then shown on Broadway and was an imme- 
diate success. It was not long before several other projec- 
tors were put on the market, with the inevitable result that 
in a short time there was turbulent conflict and litigation 
over patents, which was to last for several years in America 
and thus to hinder progress. A disastrous damper on the 
young industry was experienced also in Europe, for at a 
charity bazaar in Paris, in 1897, one hundred and eighty 
members of Parisian society were burned to death in a 
marquee, the cause of the fire being a cinematograph 
machine. This calamity had a depressing effect on the 
whole of northern Europe, and it was years before many 
people would countenance the presence of the diabolical 
engine. 

Gradually the fifty- feet lengths of film used in the kineto- 
scope lengthened until, in 1897, eleven thousand feet of film 

1 Several of these early instruments, of historic and scientific interest, 
are included in the Will Day Collection of cinematograph equipment, 
which is housed at present in the Science Museum, South Kensington, 
London. 

69 



THE ACTUAL 

were shown by Enoch Rector in America, being a cinematic 
record of the Corbett-Fitzsimmons light at Carson City, 
Nevada. Exceptionally dull as this enormous length of film 
must have been, its novelty was probably astounding. 
During the same year a film version about three thousand 
feet long of the Oberammergau Passion Play was made by 
Richard Hollaman. This was not a genuine reproduction 
of the real spectacle, as was advertised, but was manufac- 
tured on the roof of the Grand Central Palace — a fact, 
however, which did not worry the public when they became 
aware of the deception. 

About this time also, some wonderful trick effects of 
fade-outs, dissolves, and other photographic devices now 
familiar were attained by Georges Melies at the Theatre 
Robert Hondin in Paris. Melies actually had his own 
studio, which was constructed in 1896, and amongst other 
films produced a version of Jules Verne's Trip to the Moon} 

Although these novelties were widely successful, it was 
not until 1903 that the first real attempt to tell a story by 
moving pictures was made. This event was achieved by 
Edwin S. Porter's sensational The Great Train Robbery, 
eight hundred feet in length, with Marie Murray as the 
leading lady in what must surely have been the first cabaret 
on the screen. This film was rapidly succeeded by many 
other ' story-pictures ', as they were called, of a similar type, 
such as The Great Bank Robbery, Trapped by Bloodhounds, 
and A Lynching at Cripple Creek. Thereafter, for some 
years, there set in an orgy of one-reel melodramas. 

The arrival of the story-picture almost at once gave rise 
to the need for suitable places in which to project these 
efforts, which resulted in the famous nickelodeon or five- 
cent theatre. The first of these was opened by Harry 
Davis, of Pittsburgh, a real-estate operator and the pro- 
prietor of a stage theatre. This excellent showman opened 
his nickelodeon in 1905 with The Great Train Robbery as 
the first stupendous attraction, much in the same way as 

1 For a detailed study of Melies, see the well-illustrated and 
documented book by Maurice Bessy and Lo Duca (Prisma, Paris, 1945). 

70 



THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE FILM 

exhibitors in 1929 specialised in opening with The Singing 
Fool as soon as their cinemas were wired for sound. The 
immediate success of Davis's house inspired speculators all 
over the States to start similar shows, and it was not long 
before these nickelodeons sprang up everywhere. They were 
particularly remunerative in the big labour centres, where 
the universal language of the film appealed equally to mixed 
nationalities. It is of interest to note that Zukor, Laemmle, 
Fox, and Marcus Loew, all men of influence in the industry 
at a later date, ran and made big profits out of nickelodeons. 

In Europe, story-pictures continued for the most part to 
be shown in concert halls and variety houses, and at such 
places as the London Polytechnic Institute. During this 
time there had come into being the famous Hale's Tours, 
which were conducted with great success for some years 
between 1903 and 1909. These consisted of panoramic and 
travelling shots of scenes in various countries, projected on 
to a screen at the end of a room which was arranged like 
the interior of a railway carriage. The spectators were 
given the illusion of a tour through some distant land, the 
screen variously showing the railway track and spectacular 
views of well-known ' beauty spots '. Effect was added to 
the performance by the whole carriage being rocked to one 
side whenever the screen showed the train rounding a curve. 
This may perhaps be regarded as the first attempt to achieve 
atmosphere ; certainly the carriages may be looked upon as 
the forerunners of the vast ' atmospheric ' cinemas of to- 
day. The outside of the place was made to resemble the 
end of a carriage, with two rails, and an attendant dressed 
as a railway-guard. The gilded whiskered walruses who 
guard the portals of London's Empire and New York's 
Roxy would scorn to recognise their predecessors in these 
pseudo railway-guards, attracting attention by a screaming 
phonograph. 

Out of the nickelodeons, music-hall shows, and Hale's 
Tours there developed the first cinemas, which carried on 
the profitable business and caused an increased demand for 
story-pictures. This led to the erection of film studios and 

71 



THE ACTUAL 

the forming of stock companies of actors and actresses by 
the picture-makers. From the one-reel melodramas and 
slapstick comedies there emerged the longer story-films ; and 
there grew up around the latter many names which were to 
become world-famous. In 1908, David Wark Griffith, a 
stage actor, was engaged by the American Biograph Com- 
pany of New York as a scenario-writer and actor, and his 
great influence on the film was to manifest itself during the 
next ten years. About this time also, numerous one-reeler 
Westerns, with their cowboys and Indians, were especially 
popular with the ever-increasing film public. 

From 1911 to 1914 the industry developed with 
astounding rapidity. The film, hitherto a thousand feet, 
grew in length. But the most sensational pictures now 
began to come from Europe, and had considerable influence 
on the American producers. In England, the Hepworth, 
the British and Colonial Kinematograph, and the London 
Film Companies were all creating a demand by the good 
quality of their steady output. France, with her national 
leanings towards spectacular pageantry, produced historical 
films of considerable length, the most renowned being Louis 
Mercanton's Queen Elizabeth, with Sarah Bernhardt in the 
title role. This picture created a sensation wherever it was 
shown and was bought for America in 1912 by Adolf Zukor 
(then an exhibitor in New York) in conjunction with Edwin 
S. Porter, Daniel Frohman and others. From Italy came a 
series of big productions or ' feature films ', as they were 
known, including a version of Homer's Odyssey, The Fall 
of Troy, Faust, The Three Musketeers, and The Sack of 
Rome; but greatest of all, the forerunner of every spectacle 
film since, was Quo Vadis? a veritable mammoth production 
of 1912, eight thousand feet in length. This also was 
bought and shown by George Kleine in America, where to 
that date the most pretentious effort had been The Life of 
Buffalo Bill. Since the day when American producers first 
saw Quo Vadis? , cinema audiences of the world have been 
presented with super-spectacle after super-spectacle. From 
The Birth of a Nation, Griffith's reply to the Italian picture 

72 



THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE FILM 

at the end of 1914, through the years of Intolerance, The 
Ten Commandments, Robin Hood, Ben-Hur, Noah's Ark, 
Metropolis, Secrets of the East and Casanova, super-films 
abounded, developing to-day into Broadways, Hollywood 
Revues, and General Cracks of the singing, dancing, and 
talking variety. In the few years just before the war the 
feature film sufficed to build up the industry (increased 
audiences meant bigger film studios and larger cinema 
theatres), and in 1914 the opening of the Strand Theatre 
on Broadway marked a new era in the history of the cinema. 
The way was open for the position as it is to-day. 1 

With the outbreak of war in 1914, film production 
virtually came to an end in Europe. The road was left 
clear for America to secure for herself the supreme com- 
mercial control which she still holds. It was simply a matter 
of circumstance, of which the Americans were quick to take 
full advantage. That they made the best of their oppor- 
tunity is only to their credit. But all was not easy for their 
producers. Financiers were at first reluctant to put their 
war gains into the film business. Great sums of money were 
lost, serious risks taken, and wild speculations made in those 
early days before the monied men of America realised the 
vast financial profits waiting to be reaped from the movies. 2 

Once started, however, the American producing firms 
made astonishing progress. Throughout the whole war 
period their output increased yearly, until 1918 found them 
completely dominating the world market, with distribution 
interests in foreign producing companies and theatre con- 
trols that extended into Britain, France, Germany, and the 
Far East. In Britain, their acceptance was widespread 
simply because there were no other films available, and 
because their shallow, superficial nature appealed to the 
post-war state of mind of the public. British companies 

1 This account omits reference to the important growth of the Danish 
and German film industries prior to the 1914-18 War. 

2 The reader is referred to the enthralling accounts of early American 
struggles in Samuel Goldwyn's Behind the Screen, Terry Ramsaye's A 
Million and One Nights, and Mrs. Griffith's When the Movies Were 
Young. 

73 



THE ACTUAL 

found it more profitable, and far less of a responsibility, to 
rent American films than to make their own. Moreover, 
American companies soon opened their offices in Wardour 
Street and on the Continent for their own distribution, and 
remain there still. A few attempts to produce were made 
in Britain, but the lack of both experience and capital 
rendered the resulting pictures unworthy of presentation. 
America continued with characteristic facility and slickness 
to make picture after picture of a hard, scintillating type. 
By her astute business methods, she kept the standard up to 
a certain technical level, calculated to appeal to the lowest 
grade of intelligence. Britain and Europe were littered 
with these glittering, metallic movies, whose chief appeal lay 
in their sex and salaciousness, until the time came when 
marketing pictures by one's and two's began to be ridiculous, 
and Hollywood took to selling a whole year's output to 
foreign exhibitors and renters before the films themselves 
even were made. By this means she tightened her hold on 
the foreign market. The ' star-system ', catchpenny titles, 
scandalous publicity, and a hundred other tawdry schemes 
were devised to sell the goods to the European public. 
Business being business, without honour or morals, these 
movies were taken by British exhibitors, and the public 
flocked to them because of the cheapness and accessibility of 
the cinema. By degrees, the masses became saturated with 
pictures of the worst type. They did not know that others 
existed. They do not know now that many others exist, nor 
are they given the opportunity to know. Rarely is any 
foreign film (save an American) afforded a fair chance of 
success in this country. As then, the movie is rampant; the 
film is dormant. 1 

There is no denying the view that the Americans would 
have been foolish to loose their hold on the world market; 

1 This position changed but little in the thirties and even in 1947, 
eighty per cent, of films shown on British screens was of American 
origin. The situation may be changed, however, by the arrangement 
arrived at by the British Government and American Motion Picture 
Association, March 11th, 1948, and fewer Hollywood films may be 
imported. 

74 



THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE FILM 

and the method they adopted for retaining that hold was 
the disposing of their films en masse to British exhibitors. 
They devised a simple but clever system of selling their 
second and third-rate productions by means of their super- 
films. For example, if a British exhibitor wanted a big 
picture — a spectacle film — which would be a certain box- 
office draw, then he had also to accept a number of poor 
pictures to show during the off-season. This was all there 
was to it, except that, as the method spread, the exhibitor 
began to book pictures before he had seen them, and pro- 
bably before they were made, either on the strength of 
promises that they would be good or else by sample. It 
will readily be seen how this system led to the abominable 
practice of making films to type, encouraged of course by 
the evils of the star-system. If, for instance, Raymond 
Hatton and Wallace Beery made one comedy, the exhibitor 
was then coaxed to book five similar films to show during 
the next two years. Many examples of this stranglehold on 
both stars and directors are apparent, viz. the polished 
drawing-room pieces of Adolphe Menjou; the Emil 
Jannings Way of All Flesh type of film; the Clara Bow 
comedies; and the backstage and adapted stage-plays of 
to-day. All of these are per recipe. Such a mechanical 
method of making films is bound eventually to kill indivi- 
duality in director and star. Obviously there can be no 
creative effort in pictures produced in this manner. 1 

But it was not only by these means that the Americans 
assumed control of the industry. It became popular at an 
early* stage to rent big theatres for the premiere run of a 
film in order to secure prestige. A ' premiere ' at a large 
cinema in London, Berlin, Paris, or New York is all-impor- 
tant to a film. In Britain the provinces are unquestionably 
influenced by the London reception. It is the Press reports 
after the first night which count the highest. Thus it 
became customary to launch any big new picture at a pro- 
minent theatre, and it will be remembered that numerous 

x The observant filmgoer of the past eighteen years can add for 
himself many examples of this method both British and American. 

75 



THE ACTUAL 

American films had their first run at London theatres. This 
idea developed into the acquisition of theatres for premiere 
runs, not only in capitals but in the key-cities throughout a 
country. Competition led to the taking over of whole 
chains of cinema houses, which meant, of course, that any 
film a company liked to produce could be shown at every 
one of the houses on its chain, the box-office profits being 
taken direct. Nearly every big producing concern now owns 
its chain of theatres, or is associated with a company owning 
theatres, while most of the smaller film companies distribute 
their pictures through the larger firms. In London alone, 
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer own the Empire; Paramount (the 
distributing side of Famous-Play ers-Lasky) the Plaza and 
the Carlton; Fox are building a new cinema in the Hay- 
market, 1 Provincial Cinema Theatres own over one hundred 
and twenty houses, including the New Gallery, the Tivoli, 
the Capitol, and the Astoria, as well as being associated 
with the Gaumont-British chain who control the Marble 
Arch Pavilion, Shepherd's Bush Pavilion, Avenue Pavilion, 
and many others. 2 Universal own the Rialto in London, 3 
and the Rialto in Leeds; and so on. Thus the control of 
a chain of cinema theatres with a ' shop-window ' in 
London, and the advantage of group advertising, is one of 
the most important assets for a producing company. There 
is little doubt that the larger concerns will concentrate more 
and more in the future on enlarging their existing circuits. 4 
The struggle in Europe to break down American domina- 
tion has been hard and long fought; but although much of 
the European output (Germany and France) has been 
superior to the Hollywood film, the vast organisations so 

1 This announcement of 1929 did not materialise, but the cinema built 
was the Capitol, later renamed the Gaumont, and owned by the Rank 
Organisation. 

2 All these theatres are now part of the Rank Organisation. 

3 The Rialto is now controlled by Sir Alexander Korda's British Lion 
Film Corporation. 

4 The concentration of the most important cinemas into fewer and 
fewer hands has been the significant tendency in the industry in Britain 
during the past eighteen years, and in 1945 lead to the British Govern- 
ment's publication of the Board of Trade Report called Tendencies to 
Monopoly in the British Cinematograph Industry. 

76 



THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE FILM 

liberally equipped financially have presented an insuperable 
barrier. Possession, one recalls, is nine points of the law. 
In order to gain real profits, a film made in Britain, Ger- 
many, or France must secure a showing in America. This 
at present is almost impossible. A great deal has been said 
by smooth-tongued publicity men about the Americans 
wanting British films, but there is little doubt that the 
Americans are definitely hostile not only to the British but 
to the Continental industry. They do not want foreign 
films in America, except as occasional curiosities, and do 
not intend to have them. Why should they ? l 

After the war, the predominant country in Europe to 
attempt producing pictures on anything like a big scale was 
Germany. (For the moment it is as well to leave Soviet 
Russia out of the matter, for although she started to build 
up an industry at an early date, she was not concerned with 
the outside market. She made films with a purpose for her 
own people.) Superb as many of the early German produc- 
tions were, they failed to appeal to a public accustomed to 
American flashiness. Scarcely any of the early German 
films were financially successful, and few made money out- 
side their country of origin, where the box-office receipts 
were not sufficient to warrant production of fresh pictures. 
Added to which, Germany, like most other European 
countries at that time, was financially poor, and to build up 
a healthy film industry very considerable capital is needed. 
The German film trade turned to the Government for sup- 
port, and the response was forthcoming. But even with 
State help, bank subsidies, and, later, loans from American 
companies, the German industry was in a constant state of 
fluctuation. Her films, although far better quality than the 
American output, failed to secure adequate returns, and 
Hollywood, quick to recognise the brains behind these pro- 
ductions, began to rob Germany of her directors, players, 
and technicians, and to turn them to her own commercial 
uses. Some years later many of these returned the worse 

1 No significant change in this position can be reported eighteen years 
later, except for the vastly improved quality of British and French films. 

77 



THE ACTUAL 

for wear. Recent German productions tend to be Ameri- 
canised, although some attempt has been made by Erich 
Pommer to combine Hollywood commercialism with the 
remnants of the great German school of 1919-25. 

In Sweden, Denmark and France much the same story 
can be told. For some time Sweden tried gallantly to make 
films of good quality, but again financial failure was the 
result. One by one her best directors and players drifted 
across to Hollywood, where their work steadily deteriorated. 
France, although spasmodically producing interesting but 
isolated films, has never succeeded in sustaining a continued 
output. In Britain also, much the same situation developed, 
the Americans acquiring the most promising players for 
their own productions, leaving British directors to do the 
best they could with the remainder. 

Thus, although European countries made every effort to 
produce films in the face of the Hollywood machine, these 
pictures and their makers were doomed to eventual failure, 
with the inevitable result that the brains were imported into 
America. Instead of remaining persons of individual taste, 
they became cogs in the great movie machine. I cannot 
recall one example of a European director who, on going 
to Hollywood, made films better or even as good as he did 
in his own surroundings. 1 For example, Murnau's Four 
Devils and Sunrise were not comparable with Tartuffe and 
The Last Laugh; Lubitsch's The Patriot came nowhere 
near Dubarry in dramatic power ; Leni's The Man Who 
Laughs was a travesty compared with Waxworks; Dupont's 
Love Me and the World is Mine is not generally associated 
with his name; Seastrom's Thy Soul Shall Bear Witness 
is preferable to Name the Man. Among players, contrast 
Emil Jannings in The Street of Sin with Jannings in Faust; 
Conrad Veidt in A Man's Past with Veidt in The Student 
of Prague; Greta Garbo in A Woman of Affairs (better 
photographed, it is true) with Garbo in The Joyless Street; 
Pola Negri in The Flame with Negri in The Crown of Lies; 
Lya de Putti in The Scarlet Lady with Lya de Putti in 

1 In view of Lubitsch's career, this point is now debatable in his case. 

78 



THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE FILM 

Manon Lescaut, and so on. There are few conclusions to 
be drawn from these comparisons. Perhaps these directors, 
when given carte blanche and the wonderful technological 
resources of Hollywood, lost their sense of values. Perhaps 
the attempt to make good films with accepted Hollywood 
box-office ingredients was distasteful to European artists, 
who decided to bluff the Americans by including a few 
facile camera tricks which the magnates would consider 
high art. Or perhaps, and this is probably nearer the mark, 
it was impossible to produce, let alone conceive, any work 
of real aesthetic value when surrounded by the Hollywood 
atmosphere of dollars and opportunism, where culture and 
sincerity seem to be unknown qualities. The finest picture 
is not painted by an artist who has small boys to light his 
cigarettes, perfected mechanical appliances to mix his paints, 
canvases which have been specially primed at exorbitant 
cost, brushes made from the hairs of a strange and rare 
beast in the Himalayas at twenty pounds a hair. Nothing 
but hot-house virtuosity can come out of that environment. 
Sincerity of purpose and surroundings bring out good work. 
Transfer the painter from his disordered studio into a 
luxurious apartment with every new-fangled contrivance to 
hand and he is at a loss. Thus, for instance, Paul Leni 
producing Waxworks with little money, the goodwill of 
three fine actors, handicapped by lack of lights, studio 
space and time, bound down by limits, was forced to use his 
ingenuity and to extract the utmost value from a sheet of 
paper. 1 But Paul Leni directing The Man Who Laughs, 
with millions of dollars to spend, a cast of thousands, with 
the flattering knowledge that he had only to ask for a 
thing and get it, became slack, drivelling, slovenly, and 
lost all sense of taste, cinema, and artistry. This may be 
applied equally to a hundred other films made under the 
same circumstances, even by Americans, as was the case 
with Josef von Sternberg's The Salvation Hunters, a much 
over-praised film, which contained a few elementary ideas 

1 The last episode, of Jack-the-Ripper, was made with the barest 
essentials of scenery and lighting, owing to lack of finance. 

79 



THE ACTUAL 

of cinema, ideas that Sternberg has failed to develop since 
Paramount elevated him to be a director. 



It is important to note that there had been little attempt 
at combination, or working in common interests, on the 
American side of the business, although various producing 
concerns were well advanced on the road to prosperity. 
Despite the fact that, in 1915, the Motion Picture Board of 
Trade was formed in New York, followed two years later 
by the National Association of the Motion Picture Industry, 
neither of these boards had much status with the trade or 
the public. In fact, it is said that not until there had been 
repeated abuses by the trade, salacious productions, and 
several disastrous scandals involving leading personalities 
on the screen and the executive staffs, did the Motion 
Picture Producers and Distributors of America Inc. come 
into being (1922). 1 This high-sounding organisation was 
distinguished by having for its figure-head Mr. Will Hays, 
who specially resigned from the Postmaster-Generalship of 
the United States to take the position. The powers exer- 
cised by the Hays Organisation extended over a wide area, 
embracing the selection of movie subjects, general trading in 
films, international dealings with companies, the relations 
of the general public to the film industry, censorship, and 
taxation. Mr. Hays himself looks after the general interests 
of the cinema with loving kindness, by taking a hand in 
almost every affair and a large salary. From time to time 
strongly-worded edicts are issued from the great man's 
office, which lend suitable dignity to the concern but have 
little real meaning or effect. It was Mr. Hays who so 
shrewdly decided that Somerset Maugham's play Rain 
should not be made into a film unless it were renamed 
Sadie Thompson, thereby displaying great moral sagacity. 

In 1925, the international aspects of the cinema began to 
cause endless trouble, both politically and industrially, to 

!Now the M.P.A. (Motion Picture Association) under the leadership 
of Mr. Eric Johnston. For examination of the Hay's Office, see The 
Freedom of the Movies. Ruth Inglis (University of Chicago Press, 1946). 




LES SEPT CHATEAUX DU DIABLE, directed by Zecca. [French, 1907] 




CRIPPLE CREEK BARROOM, by Edison. [American, 1898] 



THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE FILM 

governments and the Press. Europe suddenly awoke to the 
fact that the American control of the screen, with its steady 
flow of propaganda for the American people, their life and 
work, was exerting an influence on world trade. Americani- 
sation not only of Europe, but of Asia, Africa, and 
Australia was being furthered through the entertaining 
medium of the cinema. Agitations arose in all countries, 
and, after heated discussions between the trade and their 
respective Governments, quotas were fixed. America her- 
self tried to disguise the whole matter by importing foreign 
stars and directors so as to give the film an international 
appeal, and by sending her own production units to work 
abroad. In this way she hoped partially to evade the quota 
regulations and to retain her hold on the world market. 
She has been successful. 

Quota restrictions on American films encouraged 
European production, and determined attempts in Britain, 
Germany, and France were again made to build up an 
industry. Many companies both large and small, some with 
negligible financial backing, made their appearance, and 
after a few months a number of films were available for 
exhibition. Few were really satisfactory, however, partly 
because the public was still saturated with flashy American 
pictures of low standard, and partly because British films 
were inferior to even the American movies. This was due 
to the lack of organisation, the scarcity of intelligent 
directors, and the unsuitable type of people of which the 
executives in British studios were comprised. In 1924, a 
publicity campaign was launched to help the British film. 
This campaign was perhaps the worst thing that could have 
happened. By extravagant articles from eminent hands in 
the Press, by debates in both Houses, by libellous accounts 
of foreign methods, by reported scandals about American 
stars, by a tremendous stirring of agitation amongst the 
public, the latter was browbeaten into a state of receptivity 
for British films. For months the Press told the public 
how good the British films then in the making were going 
to be. After all this publicity, with the public hypnotised 

81 6 



THE ACTUAL 

into readiness to applaud the worst picture in the world 
because it was British, the promised films came, one by one. 
Upon this shamefully false foundation the present industry 
in Britain is largely based. 1 

The British Government's Cinematograph Films Act of 
1927 decided that every distributing firm and exhibitor 
should show a five per cent, quota of British films, no 
matter what the films were like. Similar but more severe 
restrictions were passed in Germany and in France where, 
however, the position was slightly different. The German 
and French publics would rather see a second-rate film made 
in their own country than an imported movie. Moreover, 
German and French films made to supply exhibitors with 
their quota were of much better standard than the British 
product. In Britain, the home-made film was often so 
inferior that an exhibitor lost money while showing it, and 
had to make up the loss on next week's American picture. 
Some exhibitors actually decided to ignore the quota and 
pay the resulting fine, which they could well afford to do 
out of the profits from American programmes. 

After a time, most of the smaller British companies 
collapsed, and the remaining big firms concentrated on 
producing a considerable number of pictures, with both 
British and foreign directors and players, which would 
bring in returns sufficient to build up their business on a 
sound basis. Such was the position when Hollywood chose 
to exploit the talking film. Four out of the numerous 
British firms (British International Pictures, Gaumont- 
British, British Instructional Films, and Gainsborough 
Films) had gained a small footing in the home market 
mainly by imitating American movies and American 
methods. This was also taking place on the Continent, 
where players and directors, who some years previously had 
drifted to Hollywood, were reappearing in their home 
countries. Hollywood was being left in the lurch, and, 

1 In fact, British films never lived down this ill-advised campaign 
until the very late thirties, and it is only within the last three or four 
years that the definition has come to be an asset rather than a liability. 

82 



THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE FILM 

moreover, there was evidence that the public were at last 
tiring of the mass-produced movie. Something fresh had 
to be devised to whet their jaded appetites. 

How the talking film struck the industry in every country 
like a bombshell is recent history. How Warner Brothers, 
not knowing which way to turn in order to continue with 
their production, decided to gamble on the talking film, and 
how they achieved an astounding success; how all Holly- 
wood rapidly followed in their wake ; how the talking film 
hit the nascent British industry ; how law-suits and injunc- 
tions took place over infringed patents of reproducing and 
recording apparatus ; how the coming of the ' talkies ' was 
Britain's great chance; how the unrepentant masses 
flocked to the novelty of The Singing Fool; how the 
Americans keep their control of the world market — all 
this and more is scattered in the daily Press and is on 
everyone's lips. 



The first British dialogue film of any merit, Blackmail 
(produced by British International Pictures and directed by 
Alfred Hitchcock), was shown to the Press and the trade in 
America. The New York critics generally agreed that it 
was well up to Hollywood standards. But nobody bought 
the picture in New York; nobody wanted it; and in order 
to present the film publicly the British company had to rent 
a theatre. Now Blackmail may not have been a particularly 
good film, but it was infinitely better than any American 
dialogue picture of the same time. But the opposition it 
met with was a hard blow to British International Pictures. 
Even the Dominions cold-shouldered it. Censorship 
authorities in Australia at first prevented the picture from 
being shown, but later withdrew their ban. Such are the 
difficulties a British film had to meet. 

Meanwhile, it is said, America is thinking beyond the 
dialogue film, beyond even the colour and stereoscopic film ; 
that she is scheming quietly for complete control of the 

83 



THE ACTUAL 

entertainment industry of the world; and that she intends 
to achieve this by means of television. 

At the moment of writing (October 1929) 1 there are two 
forces that count in America — the Radio Corporation of 
America, and the American Telephone and Telegraph 
Company. These two gigantic concerns own and control 
everything that matters in the entertainment industry. 
Their present power is due to an outcome of mergers, 
tie-ups, and combinations that have been taking place for 
some years. They are rivals in the war for complete 
control, but it is likely that their rivalry will culminate in 
amalgamation. 

The Radio Corporation of America, who have the 
immense financial backing of the General Electric Company, 
are allied with the Pathe film producing concern, and have 
recently organised their own film company on a big scale — 
Radio Pictures. They own a large number of cinemas, 
having purchased the vast Keith Albee circuit of theatres 
and variety houses. They are associated with the Victor 
Gramophone Company, the alter ego of His Master's Voice. 
They own also an invention for stereoscopic films called 
the Stereopticon, which, it is said, is ready for the general 
market and will make television a certainty. Finally, they 
are extremely efficient in the making of sound film 
apparatus, the R.C.A. process being used both in British 
studios and cinemas. 

The American Telephone and Telegraph Company are 
rich in their association with film producing concerns, being 
allied to Warner Brothers, Paramount, United Artists, Fox, 
Universal, First National and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. It is 
reported that through these firms they can control half of 
the total number of cinemas in the United States. They are 
connected with the Columbia Gramophone Company, and 
through it are constructing the second largest chain of 
radio stations in the world. Warner Brothers have bought 

1 For much of this information I am indebted to the Morning Post, in 
whose columns there is steady antagonism to American domination of the 
film industry (1929). 

84 



THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE FILM 

up all the leading publishers of light music, including the 
best-known firm in London, Messrs. Chappell. The Fox 
Film Company are also financially interested in the 
Gaumont-British Company of England, which, as has been 
stated, owns a large chain of theatres in this country. Five 
representatives of the Paramount Film Company have 
joined the board of the Columbia Broadcasting Company. 
The Western Electric recording apparatus, which is being 
installed in many cinemas in Britain with great speed, is a 
subsidiary concern of the American Telegraph and Tele- 
phone Company. 

These are the two firms whose united objective will be 
the entire control of the entertainment of the world. 
Through the means of the film, the gramophone, the radio, 
and television will America dominate the world market. 



Wheels within wheels, tie-ups and mergers, quick and 
quiet shifting of financial interests, acquisition of small 
companies in foreign lands, chains of theatres and cinemas 
increasing by one's and two's, defiance of quota acts — these 
are the ways of the commercial film. 



Yet another difficulty to be encountered by the progress 
of the cinema is the acute problem of film censorship. As 
is generally known, copies of films differ according to the 
demands of the censorship regulations in the country of 
presentation. Whereas a critic in Berlin may applaud the 
editing and cutting of a certain sequence of G. W. Pabst's 
new film, this sequence may have been re-edited or com- 
pletely deleted in the copy of the same film seen by a critic 
in London. That the aesthetic value of the film suffers 
thereby as a whole is, of course, obvious to all but the Press 
and the censorship committee itself, but even this latter body 
must at times realise the havoc it causes to films by deletions 
for so-called political and moral motives. Those interested 

85 



THE ACTUAL 

in this aspect of the subject are referred to Mr. Ivor 
Montagu's valuable pamphlet, The Political Censorship of 
Films (Gollancz, 1929), but it would seem that unless all 
forms of censorship are either abolished or subjected to 
drastic revision there is no solution to the problem. The 
fault, however, lies equally with the producers and the 
directors. If they make films in which there are certain 
sequences that wilfully infringe the censor's rules they 
must obviously expect them to be severely edited before 
leave for public exhibition is granted. The root of the 
trouble lies really in the different rulings laid down by each 
country. Nevertheless, the present censorship of films in 
Bri'tain undoubtedly needs stringent reform, for its ban 
on many harmless pictures is detrimental to the progress 
of the British film industry. 1 

Apart from this, frequent exception can be taken to the 
official reasons given for the rejection of a film. A case in 
point arose in connection with Germaine Dulac's La 
Coquille et le Clergyman. According to the Film Society's 
programme for 16th March 1930, this was banned from 
public exhibition by the British Board of Film Censors 
because it ' is so cryptic as to be almost meaningless. If 
there is a meaning, it is doubtless objectionable/ First, to 
confess ignorance of the significance of a film, and then 
to suggest that it is ' doubtless objectionable ', reveals a 
standard of criticism that is truly Gilbertian ! 

Mr. Kenneth Macpherson, writing on the sore subject of 
the destruction of films by the censor authorities, cites the 
case of The Joyless Street. The film was made in thirty- 
four days working at sixteen hours a day and when com- 
pleted it was ten thousand feet in length, about the same as 
Ben-Hur or The Big Parade. France accepted the film, 
deleting two thousand feet and every shot of the ' street ' 

1 To readers anxious to pursue the devious paths of film censorship, 
T recommend the relevant chapter in The Arts Enquiry Report on The 
Factual Film (Oxford University Press, 1946), The Freedom of the 
Movies, by Ruth A. Inglis (University of Chicago Press, 1947) and 
Censored by Morris Ernst and Pare Lorentz (Jonathan Cape and 
Harrison Smith, 1930). 

86 



THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE FILM 

itself. Vienna extracted all sequences in which Werner 
Krauss appeared as the butcher. Russia turned the American 
lieutenant into a doctor and made the butcher the murderer 
instead of the girl. After having run a year in Germany, 
an attempt was made to censor it. In America it was shown 
as The Street of Sorrow, and in Britain once, at a private 
performance of the Film Society. 1 That is the history of a 
creative work which contained less harmful matter than Our 
Dancing Daughters or Hot for Paris, and it gives some idea 
of the censor's power to destroy the qualities of any film. 
There is no reason at all why many of the forbidden 
Soviet films, for example, should not be shown to special 
audiences of persons connected with the film trade and the 
Press, who might perhaps realise the shortcomings of their 
own work in this manner. Economically, also, foreign 
methods of production might be studied with advantage 
from some of these suppressed films. 

(b) The Development of the Film as a Means of Expression 

When considering the commercialism which surrounds 
the producing and exhibiting of any one film, the unscrupu- 
lous dealings and double-crossing which occur when a pro- 
duction is launched, it is surprising to discover how far the 
cinema has really advanced as a medium of dramatic 
expression. It has been seen how the film began its career 
and how it became popular with the public, but it is well to 
remember that the child film was nursed by a company of 
* fur-dealers, clothes-spongers, and grocers ' (to use the 
words of Mr. Messel 2 ) in whose hands it could hardly have 
been expected to rise above the lowest form of entertain- 
ment. Moreover, and the fact must be stressed, the primary 
aim of film producers is to make the maximum of financial 
return in the shortest possible time, a method hardly con- 
genial to so intricate an art as the cinema. 

The later part of this survey will show some of the real 

1 It was re-issued in the thirties in London with a synchronised sound 
track. 

2 Vide, This Film Business, by Rudolph Messel (Benn, 1928). 

87 



THE ACTUAL 

functions, capabilities, and potentialities of the film as a 
medium of expression, considered apart from any commer- 
cial point of view save that of general appeal. It is the 
aim here to preface these theories by actualities, to rein- 
force the potentialities of the cinema by analysis of the 
progress of the film until now, examining influences and 
estimating their worth, selecting some tendencies and 
rejecting others. 

It is essential, in the first place, to assert that the film is 
an independent form of expression, drawing inspiration 
with reservation from the other arts. Furthermore, it 
should be remarked that the attributes of the film are derived 
from the nature of the medium itself, and not from other 
matters of subject, story-interest, and propaganda. It 
should also be remembered that the film is essentially visual 
in its appeal; and that light and movement are the two 
elements employed in the creation of these visual images. 
As I shall demonstrate later, the abstraction of the 
' absolute ' film is the nearest approach to the purest form 
of cinema, far removed from the commercial film, and 
descriptions will be given of their ' simplist ' methods of 
psychological appeal through the eye to the mind of the 
spectator. Following this, there will be determined the 
other forms of cinema, descending in aesthetic significance 
through the epic and art film to the ordinary narrative film 
and the singing and dancing picture. 

The scientific and mechanical advance of the cinema has 
developed with marked rapidity as compared with 
aesthetic progress, which has been either backward, or, in 
all but a few studios, absent. I have yet to explain that 
perhaps the greatest handicap imposed on aesthetic progress 
was the camera's misleading faculty of being able to record 
the actual. At an early stage, it was found that the camera 
was capable of registering a credible record of real scenes 
and events, thereby becoming a valuable asset to education, 
a reliable means of historical reference, and a potential 
method of discovery in the sciences. When put to these 
uses, the realistic properties of the film were good. Even 

88 



THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE FILM 

to-day, the news-reel and topical budget are always 
welcome events in the evening's programme, especially 
when heightened in effect by sound. It must be emphasised, 
however, that no narration of story, or expression of 
dramatic theme, has place in this form of cinematic record. 
The appeal is purely interest. The audience is not asked to 
participate in the emotional feelings of stout gentlemen in 
top hats launching liners, or His Majesty opening a new 
home for destitute orphans. The audience watches the 
incidents with interest and listens to the dialogue in much 
the same way as it reads the evening paper. But when the 
camera came to be employed for the telling of a fictional 
theme, its realistic photographic powers were used instead 
of the creative imagination of the director, who failed to 
express the story through the camera. The latter almost 
at once became an instrument of photographic realism rather 
than a medium for the expression of creative imagination. 
Its real powers of distortion by means of exaggerated 
camera angle, slow-motion, and masking, 1 and of transposi- 
tion were completely neglected in the hasty striving after 
the obvious goal of realism. The power of the camera to 
record the actual on the screen fooled the audience into 
believing that its sole pleasure lay in the recognition of 
familiar things. Thus, at the outset of the story-picture, the 
film began its career on a false basis and it hardly need be 
stated, has continued along these wrong lines (with a few 
notable exceptions) until the present day, when the dialogue 
film is further extending the desire for realism, as are also 
the stereoscopic screen and the colour film. The exact 
replica of an object, accurate in every detail and measure- 
ment, cannot give the same emotions of pleasure as the 
real object. A photograph of a person is a very poor 
substitute for the actual being. It lies in the hands of 
the creator to utilise his imaginative powers in the 
creation of the replica, which is his impression, ex- 
pression, or mental rendering of the subject. Because 

1 The reader is referred to the full analysis of camera properties in 
Part II, Chapter III. 

89 



THE ACTUAL 

a picture is ' lifelike ', it is not necessarily an exact 
rendering of the original. It is rather the artist's inter- 
pretation of the original, in which he has emphasised the 
salient characteristics. The spectator at once seizes upon 
the latter and recognises them as being akin to his own 
thoughts about the subject, which perhaps have been sub- 
conscious in his mind until the picture has brought them 
into sudden understanding. Further, the artist's conception 
may suggest thoughts about the original of which the 
spectator had no previous knowledge. This is particularly 
applicable to the film with its power of emphasis by the 
close-up. The very presence of commonplace objects takes 
on a fresh meaning when shown enlarged on the screen, 
when emphasised as playing a part in the whole pattern of 
life. And, above all, it is essential to remember that a 
picture can be a non-representative, as well as a representa- 
tive, record of an object. 

But it will be understood that actual progress of the film 
along its proper path has been slow, and is only defined in 
a small percentage of the many thousands of productions 
realised up till now. Mr. Charles Marriott has suggested 
that ' art is a matter of the medium in which it is executed 
and a just balance between using that material in the imita- 
tion of nature and of abstraction, the degree of naturalism 
and the degree of abstraction being limited by the material.' 
This matter of ' the medium in which it is executed ' cannot 
be stressed too much with regard to the cinema, for only on 
rare occasions is the film used rightly as its nature demands. 
The pleasure of film appreciation lies in the recognition of 
small developments, which do not often comprise the whole. 
It is rare to find a film that is in itself a step forward. 
Indeed, sometimes it is a reward to find one single sequence 
in a movie which suggests an advance in the film's capabili- 
ties. However discouraging the present position of the film 
may be, the worst director may unconsciously put forward 
a fresh idea of interest. Someone has got to go on making 
movies, even if they do not stop to ask themselves whether 
progress is being made. 

90 



THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE FILM 

With the production in 1903 of The Great Train Robbery, 
the story-film was launched on its long and prosperous 
career. The incident, or action, of the film became of first 
importance. An excellent example, which shows clearly how 
mistaken were the ideas of the pioneer directors, was 
seen in the Comedie Frangaise films of 1908. Members of 
this celebrated theatre were persuaded to perform 
famous scenes from several of the French classic dramas, 
including episodes from Tarhiffe and Phedre, and to act 
them as they would on the stage, exaggerating their gestures 
into the lens of the camera. It was calculated by the 
promoters of the scheme that the appeal of the well-known 
scenes, coupled with the popularity of the celebrated actors 
and actresses, would achieve a wide success. The fallacy 
of the idea is obvious, of course, and the result was quite 
ineffectual. But it suggested to Adolf Zukor the great 
possibilities of famous plays and famous players, which, as 
is now well-known, developed into Famous- Players and 
later into the Famous-Players-Lasky Film Corporation, one 
of the biggest producing concerns in the world. 1 From the 
time of the Comedie Frangaise effort onwards, it became a 
natural course of events to appropriate subjects and persons 
hallowed by public approval, with complete disregard of 
their suitability, and to adapt them to the screen. This 
process is as common, if not commoner, to-day as it ever 
was. Stage stars are filling the film studios because of 
the dialogue cinema; any best-seller novel is bought 
for the screen; any name that comes into the public eye 
is snapped up for the movies. What of Elinor Glyn, 
Aimee Macpherson, Philip Yale Drew, and in the past Jack 
Dempsey, Georges Carpentier, and Steve Donoghue? 

Gradually the acted story became the raison d'etre of the 
film. Stage technique was modified, the gesture still being 
used in relation to the spoken word, and * acting ' became 
one of the necessary talents of the movie star. Upon this 
type of stagey performance, good photographic looks and 
the power of suggesting sexual passion has the infamous 

1 Later to become the Paramount Pictures Corporation. 

91 



THE ACTUAL 

star-system of Hollywood grown up, a system that has been 
slavishly copied in this country. 1 Quite frankly, this sort 
of thing is not film at all but merely * living photography \ 

Despite all opposition, the inherent assets of a medium 
inevitably assert themselves, and, in the case of the, film, 
some of its simpler resources began to show at an early 
stage. This was not due, however, to any deep thinking 
on the part of the ' fur dealers and clothes-men ', but to a 
natural course of development. They were to be found 
principally in the slapstick comedy, the melodramatic 
thriller, and the spectacle film. 2 Of the three young ten- 
dencies, slapstick is the most interesting, for it utilised the 
fantasy capabilities of the cinema. It brought to the screen 
things that were unreal and impossible, but verified them 
by actual vision. All the devices of the camera, such as 
slow-motion, ultra-rapid motion, abrupt cessation of move- 
ment by camera stopping, and distortion, have their direct 
use in slapstick for achieving comic effect. This has now 
been augmented by the introduction #r sound, which is 
capable of adding largely to comedy e^jct. In particular, 
reference may be made to the Mickey Mouse cartoon films, 
perfect examples of the sound and visual cinema. In an 
exceptionally early fragment of film prior to 1900, which 
was included recently in a souvenir film, Royal Remem- 
brances, a motor-car ran over a policeman who was smashed 
by the impact into small pieces which subsequently rejoined 
themselves. This may be seen as an early example of 
consciousness of the capabilities of the medium. Years 
later, the same cinematic trick of breaking an object into 
pieces and re-assembling the fragments into a whole, was 
used for dramatic purpose in Eisenstein's Ten Days that 
Shook the World. The gigantic symbolic statue of the 
Czar fell and crumbled only to come together again with the 
assembly of the Kerensky Provisional Government. In 

1 Expansion of this viewpoint will be found in The Rise of the 
American Film, by Lewis Jacobs (Harcourt Brace, 1939), and America 
at the Movies, by Margaret Farrand Thorp (Yale University Press, 1939). 

2 This account. unfortunately neglects the development of film fantasy 
as seen in the works of Georges Melies vide, pp. 70, 114, 115. 

92 



THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE FILM 

devices of this kind, the mind of the audience is held 
between the fact that they know the incident which they are 
seeing is in reality impossible, and the veritable fact that 
there it is in actuality before their eyes. A wonderful state 
of mind with which to conjure! The great asset of the 
melodramatic thriller was its movement, exemplified in the 
chase-and-escape element, which displaced dull literary 
story-interest. The emotions of the audience when wit- 
nessing these melodramas of speed were roused to excite- 
ment by the action, and not by the meaning of the story. It 
was this call for movement that developed the faculties of 
the scenario-writer, who learnt to employ the film's 
capacities for parallel action and ' last-minute-rescues \ The 
value of the high-spot climax was appreciated and was led 
up to by the chase. It was from these melodramas and 
Westerns, with their essential fast movement, that the 
Americans learnt their slick flashiness which is the hall- 
mark of their movies to-day. On the other hand, this 
feeling for movement has led to the false assumption that 
American films have tempo in comparison with the early 
German and Swedish productions. It must always be 
stressed that movement of actors and material is only one 
form of cinematic movement. The function of editing is 
equally as important, being the intrinsic essence of filmic 
creation. 

In the middle of the striving for photographic realism, 
there came the first real aesthetic advance in the cinema. 
Just after the war, the first genuinely imaginative film made 
its appearance amongst the hundreds of formalised movies. 
This break in the monotony, this gleaming ray of light, 
deserves our closest attention. 



Like a drop of wine in an ocean of salt water, The 
Cabinet of Doctor Caligari appeared in the profusion of 
films during the year 1920. Almost immediately it created 
a sensation by nature of its complete dissimilarity to any 

93 



THE ACTUAL 

other film yet made. It was, once and for all, the first 
attempt at the expression of a creative mind in the new 
medium of cinematography. Griffith may have his place as 
the first employer of the close-up, the dissolve, and the fade, 
but Griffith's contribution to the advance of the film is 
negligible when compared with the possibilities laid bare 
by The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari. Griffith and his super- 
spectacles will disappear under the dust of time, if they have 
not already done so, but Wiene's picture will be revived 
again and again, until the copies wear out. 1 In ten years 
this film has risen to the greatest heights, as fresh now 
as when first produced, a masterpiece of dramatic form and 
content. It is destined to go down to posterity as one of 
the two most momentous advances achieved by any one film 
in the history of the development of the cinema till now. 
The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari and Battleship Potemkin 
are pre-eminent. 

Made for the Decla producing firm by Robert Wiene, 
of the Sturm group in the Berlin theatre, during 1919 (a 
period, it will be remembered, when expressionism and 
cubism were the doctrines of the advanced schools of the 
drama, the novel, painting, and sculpture in Germany, 
France, and Russia), The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari was 
released in March of the following year. It was handled 
in Britain at a later date by the Philips Film Company, 
now extinct. Wiene was almost an amateur in film produc- 
tion. The architects or designers, Walther Rohrig, Herman 
Warm, and Walther Reimann, were three artists absorbed 
with ideas of cubist and abstract art. It is only natural to 
assume that their intelligence saw in the making of a film 
an adventure in a new medium, a form of expression which 
they must have realised was wider and more receptive than 
the static stage and canvas, but an expression which to them 

1 Subsequent years have seen both the work of Griffith, especially in 
Intolerance, and Caligari take their true perspective. The reader is 
referred to the programme published in connection with the memorial 
performance of Carl Mayer's work, Scala Theatre, London, April 13th, 
1947, in particular to the note by Erich Pommer on the inception of 
Caligari. Vide, Appendix IV. 

94 



THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE FILM 

at that date bore a distinct relationship to the other arts. 1 
It is not surprising, therefore, that The Cabinet of Doctor 
Caligari is in some places more theatre than film, and that 
there is a distinct tendency throughout to illustrate the sub- 
titles with pictures. These faults, apparent now with a 
heightened knowledge of the film's capabilities, must be 
allowed for in the appreciation of the meaning of this 
remarkable picture. In technical accomplishment of 
camerawork, the film made little real progress. The photo- 
graphy, by Willi Hameister, revealed no new suggestion of 
camera-angle, all the scenes apparently being taken from a 
normal eye-level. Dramatic mood was achieved by con- 
trasted lighting effects and by the design of the settings. 
Long shots and medium shots predominated, masked close- 
ups occasionally being used, and the old iris-in and iris-out 
method of beginning and ending a sequence was adopted 
throughout. The latter camera device was notably used 
for emphasising important matter, by opening or closing 
on to a face or a light, or (in the example cited on pp. 368, 
380), on to the revolving roundabouts. These openings 
were not always circular in shape; the view of Holstenwal 
was discovered to the audience by a diamond-shaped iris, 
suitable to the twisted and angular houses of the distorted 
town. 

The progress lay, rather, in the tremendous problem of 
how the camera was to be used. The result of Wiene's 
thought was sufficient to stagger the film production of the 

1 The following information, if reliable, is of considerable interest : 
' When the scenario for Caligari was first handed to Wiene, the 
manuscript specified none of the style that appeared in the production. 
In form, the original scenario was conventional. But Wiene saw an 
opportunity of getting away from the customary by giving the scenes in 
Caligari settings and forms which intensified the thought and emotions 
of the characters and established a very positive relation between them 
and mimetic action. The authors did not want expressionistic acting and 
decorations. To this day they do not understand why the picture had 
success. Mayer, one of its authors (who later wrote the scenario for 
The Last Laugh), has come round to Wiene's attitude; the other (Hans 
Janowitz) still insists that Wiene should never have handled the produc- 
tion of Caligari in the abstract style he gave it.' (Excerpts from several 
articles by Barnet Braverman in The Billboard, in November, reprinted 
in The Film Year Book, 1926, New York). Vide, Appendix IV. 

95 



THE ACTUAL 

two continents out of its comfortable peace and calm. 

In 1919, The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari put forward 
these dominating facts, which have lain at the back 
of every intelligent director's mind to this day: that, 
for the first time in the history of the cinema, the director 
had worked through the camera and broken with realism on 
the screen; that a film, instead of being realistic, might be 
a possible reality, both imaginative and creative ; that a film 
could be effective dramatically when not photographic ; and 
finally, of the greatest possible importance, that the mind 
of the audience was brought into play psychologically. 

As a film, The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari asked every- 
thing of its audience. They were to take part and believe 
in the wild imaginings of a madman. They were to share 
his distorted idea of the professor of the lunatic asylum in 
which he (the lunatic) and they (the audience) were con- 
fined. The theme and the conception were absolutely 
remarkable. 

The scenario was written by Carl Mayer and Hans 
Janowitz, and even now contains brilliant and absorbing 
story-interest. The continuity, perhaps a little difficult to 
follow, was well constructed and flowed with adequate 
smoothness. It is curious to note that after seeing The 
Cabinet of Doctor Caligari, it is the story, and its remark- 
able unfolding, which principally holds the imagination. 

The settings, which were almost entirely composed of flat 
canvas and hanging draperies, furnished with such simple 
objects as ladder-back chairs and stuffed horse-hair sofas, 
were painted with two intentions in mind : primarily to 
emphasise the distortion of the madman's mind through 
whose eyes they were seen, and secondly to provide 
interesting decorative values of tone varying from rich 
velvety blacks to the purest whites. Wherever possible, the 
design and layout of the set enhanced the dramatic content 
or meaning of the scene. In the linear design of the painted 
floors, for example, the prominent, usually straight lines of 
pattern led the eyes of the spectator direct to the figures or 
objects of significance. The walls of the prison cell were 

96 



** € 



^JSBStA- 



♦ •■»o^ 4 



THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI, directed by Robert Wiene. Werner Krauss. 
[German, 1919] 




THE LAST LAUGH, directed by F. W. Murnau. Emil Jannings. [German, 1924] 



THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE FILM 

arranged and painted in tall perpendicular planes, emp- 
phasising dejection. The prisoner, seated cross-legged on 
the floor, was the point to which all lines of the painted 
floor-pattern converged. Again, the warped and angular 
branches of the trees in the landscape strengthened the 
dramatic escape of Cesare bearing away the body of the 
unconscious Jane. The stool upon which the official-bound 
Town Clerk was seated was at least six feet high, sym- 
bolising both bureaucracy and the difficulty that Caligari 
had in obtaining attention. These are but a few examples 
of the emphasis of dramatic content by means of pictorial 
composition and settings. 1 

The lighting, also, was arranged from this point of view, 
in complete co-operation with the designers. When the 
murder of the Town Clerk was discovered, a magnificent 
scene was shown of a darkened room, its walls sombre and 
angular, with the single source of light directed on to the 
beautifully grouped draperies of the white sheets. No 
corpse was visible, only the motionless figures of the police- 
men in the half-light, but there was no doubt as 
to the content of the scene. Although the decor was largely 
angular, at times contorted and twisted arabesques, Matisse- 
like, aggravated the scene, as when Cesare made his noc- 
turnal entry in Jane's bedroom. 

Of the acting there is not a great deal to be said, for 
the parts did not call for any great emotional skill beyond 
melodrama. This type of acting, together with heavy make- 
up, was characteristic of the atmosphere of the film. The 
titles, in accordance with the feeling of the whole, were 
irregularly lettered and strangely set out. 2 

1 The following extract is relevant : ' The studio had a very limited 
quota of power and light, and on the day when we were notified (several 
days before the end of the month) my three artists (Warm, Reimann 
and Herlth) brought in a proposition that seemed to me absurd, and 
even reactionary — " Why not paint lights and shadows on the sets for 
this Caligari film?'" From Carl Mayer's Debut, by Erich Pommer, in 
the Carl Mayer programme, published in connection with the memorial 
performance, London, April 13th, 1947. Vide, Appendix IV. 

2 This is not the case in the copy now to be obtained from the 
National Film Library, London. 

97 7 



THE ACTUAL 

It may, perhaps, be asserted that this film has dated. 
Technically, as regards camerawork, stock, lighting, this is 
correct and naturally inevitable. But in meaning, content, 
suggestion, treatment, and above all entertainment, The 
Cabinet of Doctor Caligari is as convincing to-day as when 
seen years ago. It is true, also, that surrealism and neo- 
realism have superseded expressionism in the minds of the 
avant-garde, but this does not alter the fact that expres- 
sionism plays a large part in the film. Nevertheless, it is 
curious to remark that although The Cabinet of Doctor 
Caligari was a revolution in cinematic tendency, it has never 
been directly imitated or copied. 1 Raskolnikov, directed 
by Wiene in 1923, and based on Dostoievski's novel Crime 
and Punishment, was assisted in dramatic emotion by 
Andrei Andreiev's cubist architecture, but could hardly be 
called an imitation. Rather was it an essay by the same 
director in a similar vein to an earlier success. 

Comparison has also been falsely drawn between The 
Cabinet of Doctor Caligari and Aelita, a film made in Soviet 
Russia by Protazanov with cubist settings. This is a 
delusion, for the sets and costumes of Aelita, on which it is 
assumed the comparison is founded, were designed fan- 
tastically in order to express an imaginary idea of the planet 
Mars, and not, as in The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari, to 
emphasise the thoughts of a distorted mind. The cubist 
setting for Wiene's film was used purely because the 
audience were asked to imagine themselves thinking a mad- 
man's thoughts through the medium of the camera. 

As a document of cinematic progress, the value of The 
Cabinet of Doctor Caligari increases year by year. Since 
its first showing, over ten years ago, it has been mentioned 
and referred to, criticised and revived, times without 
number. It has become celebrated. Practically all those 
who were connected with its production have become 
famous. There is no need to trace their course and recent 
successes; they are too well known. Only one word need 

1 This is incorrect. Carl Mayer wrote a script specifically for 
expressionist treatment, Genuine, in 1920, also directed by Robert Wiene. 

98 



THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE FILM 

be added, Robert Wiene never repeated his achievement. 
It is his sole work of genuine merit. 1 



Although the appearance of The Cabinet of Doctor 
Caligari set working the brains of people both in and out of 
the film industry, and although it was a clear finger pointing 
one path for the cinema, one film, however great, cannot 
change the output of vast producing concerns. With its 
new ideas on the use of the camera as an instrument of 
expression, Wiene's film certainly influenced some of the 
more advanced American directors, but taken as a whole the 
productions of Hollywood remained on their former level. 
What The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari did, however, was 
to attract to the cinema audience many people who had 
hitherto regarded a film as the low watermark of 
intelligence. 

Not until 1925, however, was a film to appear which 
wholly justified the position of the cinema. During the 
intervening period many remarkable films were realised, 
chiefly in Germany and in Sweden, which evidenced that 
brains were at work in Europe, but these were of less signifi- 
cance than would first appear. 2 They naturally have their 
place in the gradual development and will be found dealt 
with more fully at a later stage. In 1925 The Last Laugh, 
the joint product of Murnau, Mayer, Freund, and Jannings, 
definitely established the film as an independent medium of 
expression. Unlike The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari, it had 
nothing in common with the theatre, but made full use of 
the resources of the cinema as known at that date. It was a 
remarkable example of filmic unity, of centralisation of 
purpose and of perfect continuity. It was made without 
sub-titles, with the single exception of a director's note, 
which changed the natural sad ending into a happy one, a 

1 Wiene died in Paris in July, 1938. 

2 Here, as elsewhere, the importance of the immediate post-war films 
of Denmark is overlooked. The reader is referred to The History 
of Motion Pictures, by Bardeche and Brasillach, translated and 
edited by Iris Barry (W. W. Norton and the Museum of Modern 
Art, New York, 1938). 

99 



THE ACTUAL 

superbly handled concession to the public. Everything that 
had to be said in this thematic narrative of an old hall- 
porter was said entirely through the camera. Not a written 
or spoken word was necessary to the correct unfolding of 
the theme. By psychological understanding, every action 
suggested a thought to the audience, every angle a mood 
that was unmistakable in meaning. The Last Laugh was 
cine-fiction in its purest form; exemplary of the rhythmic 
composition proper to the film. 

After this date, 1925, the German cinema, to which stu- 
dents of the film were looking for further progress, began 
to decline, largely on account of the general exodus of talent 
to Hollywood. The art film (decorative in treatment and 
enveloped in an architectural environment of studio struc- 
tures), for which Germany had built herself a reputation, 
was a commercial failure. The superb efforts of German 
creative directors drained the coffers of the industry, an 
unfortunate but indisputable fact. An argument for the 
failure of these films is the knowledge that the cinema is 
essentially modern, and modernism is, above all things, 
anti-romantic and experimental, reflecting as it does the 
spirit of the age. The German decorative films were for 
the most part romantic and spectacular, with a natural 
tendency towards the German love of the theatrical and the 
splendour of pageantry. Their tone was on a grand scale, 
at once serious minded and splendid, far from the super- 
ficiality of the American movie to which audiences were 
accustomed. 1 

About this time, between the appearance of The Cabinet 
of Doctor Caligari and The Last Laugh, the wide-felt 
influence of psycho-analysis, which had swept over the post- 
war schools of painting and literature, was making its mark 
on filmic treatment. Many films, both from France and 
Germany, bore effects of psycho-analytical study, par- 
ticularly those by directors who were striving after 

1 For a full analysis and sociological study of the German cinema at 
this time, the reader is recommended to From Caligari to Hitler, Dr. 
Siegfried Kracauer (Princeton University Press, 1947). 

100 



THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE FILM 

naturalistic methods, such as Lupu Pick, Karl Grune, and 
G. W. Pabst. There will be seen in the later section 
dealing with film psychology the important part played by 
the ' ineptitudes ' of life in the revealing of inward pheno- 
mena. An early example of this groping idea was found 
ingenuously in Doctor Mabuse, but unfortunate as parts of 
this melodrama were, there is no doubt that Fritz Lang 
was feeling along the right lines. During this stage also, 
the machinery complex, which had occupied the Vorticists 
before the war, re-arose in a glut of composite shots of 
trains, trams, factories, and all types of machinery. At one 
time it was almost impossible to see a film without a double, 
triple, or quadruple exposure shot of wheels. For some 
years, expressionism also had its sway with the German 
film, despite an occasional breakaway into isolated indivi- 
dualism. The Expressionists were interested in Man in 
general and not in the Individual. Although they made use 
of the representation of characters, the result was not 
regarded as personal experience but as the essential ex- 
periences of humanity. Thus, it was usual to find themes 
woven around the Man and the Girl, as in Grune's The 
Street, Pick's New Year's Eve, Czinner's Nju, Lang's 
Destiny, with additions in the form of Death the Stranger 
and The Prostitute. It is of importance to note that nearly 
all these films were entirely studio-made, whole palaces and 
streets being built, providing a feeling completely different 
from the open-air films taken on a real location. 

Some time later, the theme interest seemed to have been 
focussed on individuals again and their peculiar charac- 
teristics, as with Pommer's jewel thief and policeman in 
Asphalt, and the two men and the wife in Homecoming. 
This was a swing round to the partial admission of the star- 
system, a feature of the Americanisation of the German 
studios. Very different in texture, for example, was The 
Hungarian Rhapsody in comparison with the moral serious- 
ness of The Wild Duck. There was a tendency towards 
individualism in the new German film and a feeling for a 
more materialistic spirit, which was progressive. The first 

101 



THE ACTUAL 

may be said to have been due to America ; the second to the 
influence exerted by the Soviet films in Germany. 

In contrast with the heavy morbidness and slow technique 
of the Swedes and Germans, the French school was marked 
chiefly by its directors' nineteenth-century delight in classical 
compositions and its continuous leaning towards spectacle. 
French films were roughly divided into two classes : the 
avant-garde of the jeune cineastes and the commercial film 
on the lines of Atlantide, Michael Strogoff and Casanova. 
Whereas the Germans had sought to gain their effects by 
a theatrical, traditional form of acting in conjunction with 
an environment of studio structures, the French experi- 
mentalists attempted the creation of atmosphere by a series 
of succeeding exterior compositions, usually of great 
pictorial beauty but non-dynamic. Nevertheless, although 
many of the jeune cineastes toyed with the cinema as their 
fathers had dabbled in their ateliers, several developed into 
directors of remarkable talent, as for example, Rene Clair, 
Jean Epstein, and Jacques Feyder, whose work must be 
considered apart from the usual avant-garde kindergarten 
product. 

Meanwhile, it must be remembered that America was 
producing films in vast quantities during the years that the 
cinema was discovering its aesthetic qualities in Europe. 
The American cinema as a whole naturally demands wide 
investigation, which will follow at a later stage, but at the 
moment it is important to mention two outstanding ten- 
dencies that had grown up in Hollywood. A school of light, 
domestic, drawing-room comedy, displaying a nicety of wit 
and intelligence, had developed, to be carried eventually to 
as high a degree of perfection as this lighter side of film 
allowed. 1 It had its origin in Chaplin's memorable satire A 
Woman of Paris (1923), as well as in Ernst Lubitsch's 
brilliantly handled The Marriage Circle, made in the fol- 
lowing year. It was probably the result of a fusion 

1 The supreme example to date (1930) is Ernst Lubitsch's The Love 
Parade, a brilliant combination of sophisticated, witty direction and 
perfected technical accomplishment. 

102 



THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE FILM 

between the existing school of Hollywood bedroom farce 
and the imported European talent, the latter being exempli- 
fied primarily by Lubitsch. Along these lines the majority 
of Hollywood's clever young men worked with a superficial 
skill, to produce many effervescent comedies and farces, 
sparkling and metallic, which provided light entertainment 
for the audiences of many nations. 

In contrast with this movement in the studios, there had 
appeared a small group of directors who showed a pre- 
ference for constructing their films around natural incidents 
and with real material ; a tendency that had possibly grown 
out of the early Western picture. Robert Flaherty, Ernest 
Schoedsack, Merian Cooper, Karl Brown, and William 
Howard formed the nucleus of this group, to whom there 
should be added James Cruze, John Ford, and Victor 
Fleming, by reason of their isolated pictures which fall into 
this category. To Flaherty, however, must be given the 
full credit for the first film using natural resources, the 
inspiring Nanook of the North, in 1922, followed later by 
the beautiful Moana, in 1926. Other remarkable pictures 
characteristic of the naturalistic movement to be noted were 
Grass, Chang, Stark Love, and White Gold, all films that 
stood out sharply from the common run of American 
movies. 

Apart from these two tendencies, only the work of Erich 
von Stroheim, King Vidor and Henry King, and the 
individualistic films of Chaplin and Fairbanks, emerged with 
real seriousness from the mass of machine-made movies up 
till the time of the dialogue film. Investigation of these, 
together with less interesting work, will follow. 

Acknowledging the theoretical excellence of Pabst, the 
importance of Carl Dreyer's La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc, 
Clair's delightful comedies, Feyder's impressive Therese 
Raqnin, and the domestic comedies of the American school, 
the most momentous advances of the cinema during recent 
years have shown themselves in Soviet Russia. Although 
the value which the Soviets attached to the resources of the 
film, and which they have developed with such skill, is con- 

103 



THE ACTUAL 

stantly stressed in these pages, it must not be forgotten that 
the intensity of purpose so predominant in the Soviet film 
has been brought about by changed social conditions and 
political events since the revolution in 1917. Early Soviet 
pictures, such as The Postmaster and The Marriage of the 
Bear, contained little of the filmic creation of the present 
productions. When analysing the contemporary Soviet film, 
it has firstly to be understood that a production is seldom 
launched unless the theme contains some definite sociological 
or political meaning ; because the Soviets have realised more 
than any other nation how powerful an instrument of propa- 
ganda is the cinema. It is partly out of the desire to express 
these contained ideas with the utmost possible conviction, 
and partly out of the exceptionally brilliant skill of the fore- 
most Soviet directors, that the modern state of technical 
perfection in the science of the film has been reached. There 
has been a tendency in Britain and elsewhere, however, 
due to the always hasty enthusiasm of the intelligentsia, to 
call any film coming from the U.S.S.R. a masterpiece. This 
is very far from being the case, for actually there are not 
more than about half-a-dozen really brilliant film directors 
in Soviet Russia. There are, of course, many second and 
third-rate directors, as there are in Germany or America, 
but it has become fashionable to raise their work to un- 
usually high standards in London. The whole situation is 
rather reminiscent of that when the intelligentsia ' dis- 
covered ' Russia in the first decade of this century; when it 
became the fashion to read Tchekov, Dostoievski, Gogol, 
Gorki, and Turgenev without discrimination as to their 
merits; when no studio was complete without its samovar, 
and ikons were all the rage for interior decoration. 

Every Soviet film is, to put it crudely, a picture with a 
political purpose, and it is the duty of a Soviet director to 
express that purpose as clearly, powerfully, and vividly as 
possible. Added to which, it must be remembered that the 
cinema in Soviet Russia has been fortunate in having the 
whole-hearted support of the Government, whose leaders 
have at all times fully recognised the value of the film for 

104 



THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE FILM 

spreading their principles. Lenin regarded the theatre as a 
potential microcosm of the whole theories of Bolshevism, 
and determined to build a new theatre in Russia which would 
serve as a practical model for the people to learn from and 
to copy. The cinema, by reason of its limitless range and 
commercial superiority over the theatre, lent itself to the 
same idea. It will be recalled, for example, that the Govern- 
ment commissioned several films to be made in order to 
commemorate the tenth anniversary of the Soviet regime. 
Ten Days That Shook the World (original Soviet title, 
October) 1 and The End of St. Petersburg, were two of the 
results. Out of their efforts to meet this demand, Eisenstein 
and Pudovkin built up a form of film technique that is now 
unequalled for dramatic intensity. The same applies to 
more recent directors, to Dovjenko, Ermler, Raismann, and 
Turin. 

It is certain that the first Soviet experiments in film 
editing, employing strips of celluloid as the basic material, 
which is the foundation of almost all their film technique, 
were due to Lev Kuleshov, an instructor and film director in 
Moscow. From his original theories regarding the relation 
and inter-relation of pieces of film, which we may place 
about 1922, there have been developed the principles of 
constructive editing. Pudovkin, having studied for a while 
with Kuleshov, carried the idea further by devoting himself 
to using raw material as the foundation for his filmic 
working; whilst Eisenstein, having made his first mass film, 
Strike, in 1924, proceeded to enlarge on his ideas of 
4 intellectual cinematography '. To these directors must be 
given the credit for the most advanced forms of contem- 
porary cinema and their theories are to be seen reflected in 
the work of almost all the lesser-known Soviet directors. 
From 1924 onward, therefore, the most interesting develop- 
ments in the cinema have taken place in the U.S.S.R., and 
it is to this newly-constructed country that we must turn for 
modern tendencies towards progress. 

Of the film to-day, I find it hard to write, let alone to 
1 Vide footnote page 230. 

105 



THE ACTUAL 

tell, for the unbalanced state of the whole industry, together 
with the sweeping tide of the noisy dialogue film, are move- 
ments which strangle at the outset any attempt at progress 
in the cinema. To find the proper film it is necessary, first, 
to brush aside the sweepings from America and Britain, 
dissect the films from France and Germany with an open 
eye for second-hand virtuosity, and regard the new Soviet 
pictures with reservation in case they may be resting on 
their past successes. Of the wedded synchronised sound 
and silent film, co-ordinated into a filmic whole, there is 
as yet no concrete example, though one waits in anticipation 
for Pudovkin's Life Is Beautiful. 1 It is possible only to 
watch the dialogue film and utilise one's imaginative power. 
Of the silent film but few examples come laggardly to 
Britain, often enough to be hidden away unseen. Occa- 
sionally a few of these may find their lonely way to the 
Film Society, or to the affectionate screen of what is, at the 
moment of writing, London's only loyalist, the Avenue 
Pavilion. 2 

Of the feeling prevalent on the Continent it is difficult to 
say, for news is rare of the silent film, and words and static 
photographs are inadequate to express the dynamic of film 
technique. The ever-moving theme, the relation and inter- 
relation of thought expressed in moving images, is too 
elusive to be captured in print. It is, perhaps, only possible 
to sum up by disconnected statements of ideas, reactions, 
and observations. 

The predominant characteristic of the film to-day 
is the growing tendency to find filmic expression by means 
of climactic effect. This process of image construction is 
the basis of Soviet technique, and has spread with rapidity 
into the minds of the more advanced German and French 

1 Announced as a sound film, Life Is Beautiful eventually appeared as 
a silent film. Pudovkin's first sound film was Deserter, in which he 
made many interesting new experiments with sound. 

2 In retrospect, it is possible to see now how much one owed to the 
management of the Shaftesbury Avenue Pavilion by Stuart Davis. 
Articles surveying the specialist cinema movement in retrospect were 
published in Documentary News Letter, June and July, 1940. Cf. foot- 
note on p. 293. 

106 



THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE FILM 

directors. There seems, moreover, to be a distinct striving 
after some form of arithmetic or geometric progression in 
the arrangement of visual images during editing, in the 
relation and inter-relation of film strips. There is also a 
tendency to shorten the approach to a scene by the elimina- 
tion of the long shot and the increased use of the close-up. 
The psychological effects made possible by the introduction 
of varied cutting by the Soviets is in the process of being 
carried to an advanced stage. Cross-cutting and inter- 
cutting are being utilised more as a method of insistence on 
the main object, than as the old-fashioned even distribution 
of dramatic suspense of the ' last-minute-rescue ' variety. 
Symbolic inter-cutting is being employed as an aid to the 
emphasis of the central theme, as with the statue of Peter 
the Great in The End of St. Petersburg. It is a dual theme 
of symbol and individual, connected mentally by association 
of ideas and visually by similarity of the shooting angle. It 
is being found that emotional effect is to be more easily 
reached by an intercut comparison to a like emotional effect. 

There seems prevalent in the film to-day a more sensi- 
tive feeling for the association of ideas, which is finding 
filmic expression in terms of contrast and comparison, 
mental and visual. There are directors who in their work 
seek to establish by suggestion, contrast, and comparison, 
what may perhaps be called a continuity of human thought. 
One is emotionally conscious that the content of a theme is 
constantly ranging over more than one idea at the same 
time, a double purpose of meaning for the expression of 
which the natural resources of the film are admirably 
suitable. This affinity of ideas is marked by a connecting 
link, which may be said to be, in its terms of contrast and 
comparison, the essence of filmic treatment, both in the 
mental association of ideas by symbolism and by the actual 
visual likeness of one thing to another. 

Contrasts appear to take on various aspects. The contrast 
of space between the interior and the exterior; between 
the close confinement of walls and the spreading horizon 
of a landscape; between the occupied and the unoccupied; 

107 



THE ACTUAL 

between the full and the empty. The contrast of size, 
between the thick and the thin, the long and the short. The 
contrast of shapes, between the square and the circle, 
between a top hat and a cloth cap. The contrast of like- 
nesses, so well exemplified by Vertov's gas mask and skull. 
The contrast of extremes, between the worker underground 
and the top of the factory chimney. There is an association 
of ideas between the mouth of a bugle and the muzzle of 
a gun. There is a comparison of likeness between the poise 
of an athlete and the balance of a horse. There is a 
similarity of motion between the stroking of one's hair 
and the stroking of a cat. There is the comparison of form, 
used so much for easy transference of thought in dissolves 
and mixes. All these factors make themselves apparent in 
the uses of cross-cutting for effect. They are filmic methods 
of strength, emphasis, enforcement of meaning by the 
association of ideas. 

To be considered further but not necessarily to be 
accepted, there are the new theories of montage construc- 
tion that have been put forward by Eisenstein. These 
embrace an entirely fresh method for the determination of 
the relation that lies between the film strips in the assembling 
of a picture from its contributory lengths of frames. 
Eisenstein seems concerned with the disposal of the old, 
orthodox principles of editing (i.e. according to the time 
lengths of shots, the relationship of shapes, the association 
of ideas, etc., all of which produce sensations in the minds 
of the audience, ranging from sudden shock to smooth 
transfusion according to the will of the director) by the 
adoption of a new method which will be governed by the 
physiological sensations produced by over-tones of the 
visual and sound images. He is experimenting with the 
arrangement of shots, scenes, and sequences according to 
their degrees of emotional pathos by creative impulse, cal- 
culating to arouse the nervous reflexes of the spectator into 
responsiveness. He believes that, instead of an audience 
seeing and hearing a film, they should sense it; sense being 
the clue to the fourth dimension or over-tone, to be found 

108 



THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE FILM 

in the beats of music and in the interval that exists between 
one visual image on the screen and another. On the assump- 
tion that both visual over-tones and sound over-tones are 
magnitudes of the same dimension (time) and that both are 
physiological sensations, he proceeds to new methods of 
filmic construction by a process of tonal and over-tonal 
montage. Naturally one awaits practical expression of his 
theories with interest before offering comment; other, that 
is, than those made manifest by certain portions of The 
General Line, which were not concerned with sound 
reproduction. 

In actual production there is a welcome tendency towards 
the use of real material in place of studios and professional 
players. The cinema shows distinct signs of becoming film 
instead of theatre. Outside the U.S.S.R., Jean Epstein, 
John Grierson, and Hans Richter are seeking subjects 
in the commonplace instead of the artificially constructed, 
and there are also the few natural resources films in 
America. But these examples of the real film are but drops 
in the ocean of the movies of the world, overshadowed and 
dwarfed by the menace of the dialogue cinema. 

* 

Ridiculous as it may seem in the short span of life during 
which the film has existed, the process of misuse of the 
medium is repeating itself. General tendencies at the 
present moment show the misconception of the film to be 
greater and more difficult to unlearn than ever before. 
Directors as a whole are still only beginning to understand 
the potentialities of the film as a medium in itself. Its 
limits and delimits still present a broad field for investiga- 
tion. It is just being realised that mime and gesture and 
the consciousness of the inanimate transmit an international 
idea; and that the pictorial meaning of the film is under- 
standable to all according to their powers of sensitivity. 
But the main object to-day appears to be the synchronisation 
of the sound of the human voice with the photograph of 
the moving lips, and to reproduce the sound of visual objects 
in order to make them seem more real. That this is the 

109 



THE ACTUAL 

desire of the American producers and directors is apparent 
from their advertisements. In brief, the introduction of 
the human voice merely relieves the director of his most 
serious obligation, to convey meaning to the mind by means 
of the resources of the visual cinema. The act of recording 
dialogue is not a further resource, as some theorists like to 
imagine. The dialogue film at its best can only be a poor 
substitute for the stage. From an aesthetic point of view, 
sound can only be used to strengthen symbolism and 
emphasise dramatic action, and experiments on these lines 
will be successful and justified. 

On the heels of the usurping dialogue film comes the 
introduction of the stereoscopic screen and the colour film. 
Both of these inventions, wonderful though they may be in 
themselves, seek to achieve the realism so antagonistic to 
an imaginative medium. The cinema, with the addition of 
these new inventions, will degenerate into theatrical pre- 
sentation on a large and economic scale. The true resources 
of the film will be swept aside in the desire for a straighter 
and more direct method of story presentation. The dura- 
tion of time that a visual image is held on the screen is 
already becoming longer. As Mr. Eric Elliott has so truly 
written : ' given a large stage scene with three dimensional 
effect, combined with colour and oral dialogue, it is 
tempting authors and producers to " put across " the 
sustained dramatic situation of the theatre proper/ 1 

Thus, there are few films which stand alone as achieve- 
ments of real cinema, whilst there are many that miss 
greatness because of the negligence of the director or the 
obstinacy of the producer. Rare indeed is it to meet with 
an intelligent and sympathetic film producer; frequent 
indeed is it to meet upstart producers who make illegitimate 
claim to a knowledge of the film, riding roughshod over the 
conceptions of the director. If a film is to be a unity, clear 
cut and single-minded, the director alone must preconceive 
it and communicate its content to the audience through 

1 Vide The Anatomy of Motion Picture Art, by Eric Elliott (Pool, 
1928). 

110 



THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE FILM 

groups of interpreters of his vision, under his supreme com- 
mand. The construction of a film from the first conception 
to the final product must be under the absolute control of 
the director. This is unhappily far from being the case. 

But good films have been produced and good films will be 
produced in the future, although the opportunities to-day 
are more remote. Was it not Rene Clair who said that the 
zenith of the film was passed a few years ago? Yet, 
in Bryher's Film Problems of Soviet Russia (Pool, 1929), 
Pabst is said to have observed that ' Russia has taken one 
road and America has taken the opposite, but in a hundred 
years both will meet. England has taken neither, but will 
work out her own salvation independently, and in the end 
she will arrive at the same result/ This may be so, but I 
find it hard to agree when considering the present circum- 
stances. Again, Mr. Chaplin has written that ' ... it has 
been from the film itself, a device offering constant provoca- 
tion to the imagination and senses of rhythm and colour that 
the sheer strength and crude grandeur of the motion picture 
industry have come. A giant of limitless powers has been 
reared, so huge that no one quite knows what to do with it. 
I, for one, am hopeful that Mr. Wells shall settle the 
question for us in his next novel/ * 

Mr. Wells has written that novel, but the question is no 
nearer being answered. The King Who Was a King was 
full of a thousand ideas, gleaned from a scrutiny of the 
output of Germany and America, but there was precious 
little in the book that had direct bearing on the position of 
the film itself. I believe that Mr. Wells saw and realised 
the greatness of the film medium, but did not know quite 
what to do about it. And in any case his outlook was 
literary and not filmic. 2 

For the most part the cinema still lies in the hands of 
those who desire to make it the means of the greatest 

1 In the foreword to Films: Facts, and Forecasts, L'Estrange Fawcett 
(Bles, 1927). 

2 Personally, I was disappointed by Mr. Wells's excursions into the 
film medium and was one who found The Shape of Things to Come a 
bore. 

Ill 



THE ACTUAL 

possible financial return in the shortest space of time. One 
looks, therefore, to those in whose power it is to keep steady 
the direction of the advance of the film. To Chaplin, Fair- 
banks, and Flaherty in America; to Soviet Russia; to 
Pabst, Richter, and Pommer in Germany ; and to the young 
men of France. With their whole-hearted and enthusiastic 
support, the film can be diverted from the abyss towards 
which it is heading. 



112 







♦•'//v. '!'/%« 



L'HIPPOGAMPE, directed by Jean Painleve. [French, 1934] 




THE SHAPE OF THINGS TO COME, directed by William Cameron Menzies. 
[British, 1935] 



II 

THE VARIOUS FORMS OF CINEMA 

Before proceeding to a detailed investigation of the 
product and personalities of separate film-producing 
countries it is important to try and define the various forms 
of cinema. In this way it will be found that such tendencies 
as choice of theme and employment of real or artificial 
material for the camera, existing in individual countries, 
can be more easily classified or contrasted with tendencies 
in other producing centres. 1 For this reason, therefore, 
the various forms of cinema may perhaps be grouped briefly 
as follows : — 

(a) The Abstract, or Absolute, Film 

The abstract film, like Ruttmann's Operas, Richter's 
Rhythmus, and the late Viking Eggeling's Symphonic 
Diagonale, is as far removed from the commercial fiction 
film as is surrealism from the Royal Academy. The abstract 
film is a primary example of unity of filmic purpose. Briefly, 
it seeks to produce simple psychological reactions in the 
mind through the eye by the variation in rapidity of groups 
of abstract forms in movement, and by the relations of 
geometric figures changing their proportions, dissolving and 
displacing each other, thereby making visual abstract 
patterns. The result on the mind produced by the abstract 
film may be compared with that produced by the word 
patterns of the post-war school of poets, to certain forms 
of literature such as the work of James Joyce, and to music 
without melodic interest. For example, a series of dis- 
connected words may suggest an incident, and by the 
welding of these disconnected sentences a complete whole 
can be built up having a psychological value. 

1 In Movie Parade (Studio Publications, London 1936), a different 
method of classification under subject matter was tried. 

113 8 



THE ACTUAL 

The film, with its cinematic properties of rapid movement, 
contrast, comparison, rhythm, expansion and contraction of 
forms, is admirably suited to present a series of abstract 
visual images to the eye, capable of causing strong emotional 
reactions. A sequence of swift impressions, of little interest 
singly, but arranged in relation one to another, has powerful 
psychological meaning. 

A more recent form of the abstract film is the pattern 
film, which often uses machinery in motion or at rest, or 
architectural motives, for its material basis. Most success- 
ful in this manner have been Eugene Deslav's La Marche 
des Machines, Richter's Vormittagsspuk, and Joris Ivens 
and Francen's Phiie and Le Pont d'Acier. 

The late Viking Eggeling was one of the pioneers of the 
absolute film and an excellent description of his method is 
given by Mr. Ivor Montagu in Close Up (vol. 1, no. 6). 
' The basis of his work is line, and his patterns are mainly 
the varying positions on a two-dimensional plane, the 
screen, of his one dimensional figures, in contradistinction 
to the patterns of Richter and Ruttmann which are usually 
two-dimensional forms moving in three dimensions. The 
screen is a blackboard to Eggeling and a window to Richter 
and Ruttmann.' In contrast to this, Deslav's abstractions 
are patterns of photographic reality pieced together to make 
rhythmic unity. 

The definite similarity existing between the absolute film 
and the early melodrama is significant, for the psychological 
appeal to mind and eye is identical. As Mr. Eric Elliott 
has pointed out, everything the cinema has so far actually 
demonstrated, and all its possibilities as they are seen now, 
should theoretically have been obvious the moment it 
became practicable to project a series of animated images in 
scenes on a screen. It is curious to note how far the 
directors in those primitive days realised the resources of 
the new medium (such as the rapidity of the chase) in order 
to fulfil their ideas and it is interesting to watch, for 
instance, George Melies* Trip to the Moon, made in 1902, 
in which were used double-exposure and ' magical ' effects 

114 



THE VARIOUS FORMS OF CINEMA 

equal, if not superior, to those employed in Fairbanks' 
The Thief of Bagdad in 1923. Any form of art, however, 
that may have developed out of these crudities was extin- 
guished when the centre of film production shifted from 
Europe to America at the outbreak of war in 1914. 

It is impossible to give here an exhaustive list of abstract 
films, but amongst those of more than usual interest, apart 
from already mentioned examples, were Filmstudie and 
other works by Hans Richter; A quoi r event les jennes 
films (1924-25) by Henri Chomette; Le Ballet Me canique 
(1925) by Fernand Leger and Dudley Murphy; Eugene 
Deslav's Montparnasse and Les Nuits Electriques; Sandy's 
Light and Shade; Francis Bruguiere and Oswell Blakeston's 
Light Rhythms; and works by Marcel Duchamp and 
Maurice Sollen. 

At the time of writing, no abstract film has been shown 
in Britain incorporating sound as well as visual images, but 
the possibilities of sound co-ordinated with visual patterns 
for abstract effect are limitless. 1 

(b) The Cine-poem, or Ballad Film 

Of this type of cinema there is little to be written because 
experiments in this direction have been few. Occasionally a 
single sequence in a full-length film stands out alone as a 
cine-poem, as a pure creation of a simple mood or atmos- 
phere, based possibly on literary inspiration, which can be 
lifted direct from its surrounding sequences and be shown 
complete in itself. Most notable is, of course, Walther 
Ruttmann's fascinating Dream of the Hawks in Siegfried, 
the first part of Fritz Lang's Nibelnngen Saga. The 
sequence, which was extremely short, purported to show 
Kriemhild's dream in which she was forewarned of Sieg- 
fried's death and of her own fate. This was done by means 

^■The additional cost of sound has, without doubt, done much to 
restrict experirnentalism. The colour films of Len Lye, mostly financed 
by the British G.P.O. Film Unit, in the thirties, carried on the experi- 
mental tradition in Colourbbx, Rainbozv Dance and others. The pattern 
of abstract visuals cut to fit synchronised music by Oslcar Fischinger 
and the colour films of Norman Maclaren for the National Film Board 
of Canada, also fall into this group. Cf. Appendix I (Hi). 

115 



THE ACTUAL 

of the silhouettes of two black hawks and a white dove 
circling in beautiful rhythmic actions against a grey back- 
ground, the whole maintaining a moving decorative pattern. 1 
Man Ray's short film L'Etoile de Mer was a filmic expres- 
sion of Robert Desnos' poem and was of merit by reason of 
its transient light forms and movement. Much of it was 
photographed through mica masks, producing a soft effect 
of mistiness. Of Emak Bakia, Man Ray's earlier picture, 
he says himself : * ... a series of fragments, a cine-poem 
with a certain optical sequence, make up a whole that still 
remains a fragment. Just as one can much better appreciate 
the abstract beauty in a fragment of a classic work than in 
its entirety, so this film tries to indicate the essentials in 
contemporary cinematography/ 

In this section should be included such short films as 
Alberto Cavalcanti's La P'tite Lili, a delightful burlesque 
of a traditional song of La Barriere, in which an effect 
of an old sampler was obtained by the use of coarse gauzes 
in front of the lens of the camera. Kirsanov's Brumes 
d'Automne, a simple representation of the mood of a girl 
after a tragic occurrence, was moving in a slow, sentimental 
way, much of the mental state being suggested by throwing 
the lens of the camera in and out of focus. Silka's fable 
film, La Ballade du Canart, although crude in technical 
execution, may be called a cine-poem in conception, and 
deserved better treatment. 

(c) The Cine-surrealist Film 

This type of film is as yet represented by a few isolated 
examples only, though there are traces of surrealism in 
some Soviet films that have been seen, such as the opening 
sequences of Barnet's comedy, The House in Trubnaya 
Square, and portions of Dovjenko's Zvenigora. The appeal 
of the surrealist film is necessarily limited and production 
is due entirely to private resources. I believe, however, that 

1 Other more recent examples were Lotte Reiniger's prologue to the 
Pabst film of Don Quixote, and from time to time a ' dream ' sequence 
is notable in a fiction film, for example, Farewell, My Lovely and Odd 
Man Out. 

116 



THE VARIOUS FORMS OF CINEMA 

there is something to be learnt from its manner of treat- 
ment which can be applied on a wider scale in fiction films. 
Although the essential character of Luis Bunuel's Un Chien 
Andalou prevented it from being shown except to a 
restricted audience, there was much astonishing matter to 
be gleaned from it. Realising the primary aim of the 
surrealist movement to be the expression of dreams and 
thought tangents of an imaginative person provoked by 
material surroundings and placed on paper or canvas, it is 
natural that the film lends itself to an expression which 
demands ' imaginative velocity and moral nonchalance, 
unlimited risibility, and a sensitivity to the fantasy of the 
commonplace/ Bunuel's film, whilst containing some un- 
pleasant material, was one of the most dynamic I have seen. 
It had an intensity of expression unknown in most examples 
of cinema, an intensity gained from the material and not 
from technical assembling. There was a fluid continuity 
that was amazing in its swift transference of thought, and 
mention should be made of the extraordinary acting of 
Pierre Batcheff*. 

Germaine Dulac's brilliant La Coquille et le Clergyman 
was also surrealistic in tendency, being a series of expres- 
sions of states of mind strung together with a beautifully 
defined thread of continuity. At moments it rose to great 
heights of dramatic intensity, due to the cleverly chosen 
angles, whilst the photography throughout was of the best 
quality. It was to be taken as an extreme instance of the 
domination of ideas over the irrelevance of situations. 
Neither of these films has been generally shown in Britain; 
but that of Dulac was presented to the Film Society on 16th 

March 1930. 1 

(d) The Fantasy Film 

The potentialities of the film in the realm of fantasy are 
unlimited and are to be found hidden away in practically 
every side of general production. The inherent fantastic 

1 Bunuel's L'Age d'Or, and Cocteau's Sang du Poete now fall into this 
group while surrealist influence was marked in the films of Jean Vigo, 
Zero de Conduite and L'Atlante. The scenarios (in English translation) of 
Un Chien Andalou and L'Age d'Or are contained in the appendices to The 
Secret Life of Salvador Dali (Vision Press, 1948). 

117 



THE ACTUAL 

nature of the cinema at once suggests a hundred ideas which 
are impossible of being expounded in any other medium. 
Notable instances which immediately occur to the mind are 
the charming silhouette films by Lotte Reiniger, of which 
mention can be made of The Adventures of Prince Achmed 
and Cinderella. There have been several imitations of 
Lotte Reiniger's work, but they can be detected with ease 
by their inferior craftsmanship. Another fantastic type 
was to be seen in Stanislas Starevitch's model film The 
Magic Clock, in which good use was made of the ' magic ' 
qualities of the camera. Whilst this type of fantasy cannot 
be called strictly cinematic there is nevertheless room for 
much development. 1 

Coming to the full-length fantasy film one recalls, of 
course, Ludwig Berger's exquisite version of Cinderella in 
1923, with its superb baroque architecture by Rudolph 
Bamberger. I find this chiefly memorable for the mar- 
vellous battle of the witches, perhaps the best example of 
film magic yet made. Flashes of fantasy appeared in 
nearly all the films of the German middle period, notably in 
Siegfried, Destiny, Faust; in the early Russian Morosko; 
in Dovjenko's Zvenigora; in the spectacular Ufa produc- 
tion, Secrets of the East; in Fairbanks' The Thief of 
Bagdad; in Renoir's La Petite Marchande d'Allumettes; 
and in Clair's he Voyage Imaginaire. There remains much 
to be accomplished, however, in this vein, particularly in the 
manner of Hans Andersen and the Brothers Grimm. The 
consummate ease with which magic can be achieved by 
double exposure and trick effects on the screen suggests the 
wide range of material waiting to be utilised. 

(e) The Cartoon Film 

The cartoon element goes back to an early stage in the 
development of the cinema, arising probably in the first 
place out of the humorous strip in the American news- 
papers. Although the laborious draughtsmanship, neces- 

1 The charming puppet model films of Georg Pal, and the recent work 
of the Czechoslovak puppet film producers require mention here. 

118 



THE VARIOUS FORMS OF CINEMA 

sarily entailed in the production of the thousands of small 
drawings needed as material for smooth movement, has 
naturally limited the output of these animated cartoons, 
nevertheless those artists who have specialised in this form 
of cinema have nearly always achieved success. In the past 
the appearance of Felix the Cat, Mutt and Jeff, and Aesop's 
Fables were always greeted with enthusiasm. 

But it is not until the recent Walt Disney cartoons of 
Mickey Mouse that the full value of such work has been 
realised. In point of fact, the Disney cartoons are not only 
funnier and better drawn than their predecessors, but they 
are far more filmically conceived and have the added ad- 
vantage of mechanically recorded sound accompaniment. 
The possibilities afforded by the incorporation of sound with 
the drawn cartoon film are unlimited and, without showing 
ingratitude to the creator of Mickey Mouse, one foresees 
a wealth of imaginative material lying at the hands of the 
creative draughtsman of the future, particularly with the 
employment of flat colour. 

To many writers at the moment, the Disney cartoons are 
the most witty and satisfying productions of modern cinema. 
Their chief merit lies in their immediate appeal to any type 
of audience, simply because they are based on rhythm. They 
have been compared with the early one-reelers of Chaplin, 
and the way in which they appeared unheralded, gradually 
to achieve an international acceptance, is not unlike that of 
the great comedian's early work. The real importance of 
Mickey Mouse, however, lies not so much in the clever 
draughtsmanship and amusing wit of Walt Disney as in 
the full advantage that is taken of synchronised sound. 
Whilst film theorists in every country have been fruitlessly 
arguing over the merits and demerits of sound images and 
their employment in counterpoint, Disney has put into use 
all the properties to be gained from synchronisation. In the 
burlesque accompaniment of distorted sounds that is wedded 
to the ever-moving figures of Mickey Mouse and his asso- 
ciates, there are to be discovered all the intrinsic qualities 
of sound in combination with visual images. The essential 

119 



THE ACTUAL 

characteristics of the Disney cartoon films, where distorted 
linear images are matched with equally distorted sound 
images, are those of the visual-sound film of the future. In 
his earlier cartoons it was noticeable that Disney divided 
the appeal equally between the screen and the sound, both 
matching but neither governing the other. In his later 
pictures (Springtime and Jungle Rhythm) there is a ten- 
dency to fit the linear images to a definite melody, which is 
detrimental, for it impedes the free flow of the draughts- 
manship. It has been suggested, also, that there is a feeling 
of vulgarity in the more recent examples, but that is a 
matter outside the range of this survey. As the best of 
Disney's work I would choose, without hesitation, Mickey's 
Choo-Choo and The Jazz Fool, both masterpieces of com- 
bined wit and humour expressed in terms of patterned 
draughtsmanship and sound, revealing a sense of cutting 
and of angle. 1 

(/) The Epic Film 

Like fantasy, the power of the epic film is still but par- 
tially exploited, and, again, where experiments have been 
made in this direction they have been remarkably successful. 
The film is capable of showing the movement of masses 
better than any other medium, but it is necessary to 
differentiate between the epic and the mere spectacle film. 
By the film's control of space and time, it is possible to 
portray by massed movement the feelings and psychological 
reactions of a nation. The epic film conceives collective 
life as an end in itself or with, perhaps, an individual of 
more than ordinary significance emerging from the crowded 
background. 

1 The subsequent development of Disney is, in my opinion, one of the 
greatest disappointments in the cinema. In the typical Hollywood 
manner, he has appeared to concentrate on the elaborate development 
of the mechanics of his technique and paid less and less attention to the 
fundamental creative ideas underlying his work. Of his recent full- 
length cartoon films, for all their trickery and combination of real 
persons with animated drawings, I am afraid I admire only parts of 
The Reluctant Dragon and Dumbo. His greatest mistake was perhaps 
to introduce human beings, either real or drawn, into his films. 

120 



THE VARIOUS FORMS OF CINEMA 

The greatest examples of the epic mass film were the 
world-famous Battleship Potemkin and Ten Days that 
Shook the World by S. M. Eisenstein. It seems incredible 
that a person drawn from any class or any part of the 
civilised world could witness these films without obtaining 
a full realisation of the spirit of the Russian people. 
They were political in that they dealt with political 
events; they were propaganda in the same way that the 
The King of Kings (that essence of hypocritical nonsense) 
was propaganda for the Christian religion. On the score 
of their epic quality, as apart from their propagandist inten- 
tion, they deserve to be shown freely throughout the world. 

Contrasted with these mass productions, Pudovkin's The 
End of St. Petersburg, which dealt roughly with the same 
events as Ten Days that Shook the World, was an example 
of individuals moving against a crowded background, of 
an epic theme seen through individuals. By circumstance 
of the scenario narrative a peasant boy was made to project 
from the masses, but was suggestive only of their mental 
state. 

It is necessary also to include such films as Grass in this 
category, and to a very much lesser extent Martin Luther, 
which was, or should have been, epic in conception, as well 
as Abel Gance's vast picture Napoleon. 

(g) The Documentary or Interest Film, including the 
Scientific, Cultural anl Sociological Film 

This type of cinema has been recently explored with great 
success on the Continent and especially in Soviet Russia, 
where the interest picture has been made in great numbers. 
Films on how this thing is made and how that functions are 
often to be found in the average programme in Britain. 
Moreover, the treatment of these films is rapidly improving, 
as for example in Edmond Greville's fascinating picture of 
the making of watches at Tavannes in Switzerland, The 
Birth of the Hours. Instances of the various forms may 
be taken as (a) Geographic : Pamyr, With Cobham to the 

121 



THE ACTUAL 

Cape, Turksib and Pori; (b) Scientific : The Mechanics of 
the Brain, and many short films of surgical operations, 
etc. ; (c) Sociological : The Expiation, and, of course, most 
of the ordinary Soviet films. In Britain, special mention 
should be made of numerous nature films produced by 
British Instructional Films, all admirably made, as well 
as John Grierson's recent epic of the herring fleet, Drifters. 1 

(h) The Combined Documentary and Story-Interest Film 

The growing desire to photograph reality rather than 
structural studio representations has rendered this form of 
cinema exceptionally popular of recent years and many out- 
standing pictures have been made on these lines. The aim 
of combining story-interest with real material is altogether 
good and opens up vast and hitherto untouched material as 
subject matter for scenarios. Prominent examples in this 
vein have been : Storm Over Asia, Finis Terrae, Nanook 
of the North, Moana, and Chang. 2, 

(i) The Cine-Eye and Cine-Radio Film 

With the school of the cine-eye and the cine-radio one 
immediately couples the name of its founder, Dziga-Vertov, 
and of his brother and cameraman, Kauffmann. The group 
is a branch of the Vufkukino organisation of the Soviet 
Ukraine and so far has worked alone in the development of 
its theories. The Vertov theory, in brief, assumes that the 
camera lens has the power of the moving human eye to 
penetrate every detail of contemporary life and its sur- 

1 No attempt can be made here to describe the whole growth of the 
factual film in all its many forms since 1929. Documentary Film (Faber 
& Faber, London, 1939, revised edition), does this to some extent, but 
probably the best account of the documentary film movement is in the 
Arts Enquiry Report on The Factual Film (Oxford University Press, 
1946). Of gieat importance, also, is the collection of John Grierson's 
writings, Grierson on Documentary, edited by Forsyth Hardy (Collins, 
1946). 

2 The combination of personal story with documentary approach and 
technique is a subject of much discussion and theory these past ten 
years. Recent outstanding films attempting this synthesis were : Nine 
Men, The Overlanders, Boomerang, Grapes of Wrath, Millions Like Us, 
The Way Ahead and In Which We Serve. 

122 



THE VARIOUS FORMS OF CINEMA 

roundings, to an accompaniment of sound. Particular use 
is made of the scientific resources of the cinema, and all 
such technical devices as slow and rapid motion, abrupt 
cessation of movement, double and triple exposure, together 
with all the orthodox principles of montage as understood 
by the Soviet cinema, are included in its work. It has been 
aptly termed la cinematographic sans jeu; its limitations are 
at once obvious. 

(/) The Cine-Record Film 

(a) The representation of modern fact, without the intro- 
duction of story-interest, is to be found chiefly in current 
newsreels, both sound and silent, as distinct from the 
Dziga-Vertov theories and Walther Ruttmann's Berlin. 
For this purpose, the advent of the sound film has increased 
the appeal beyond measure. British Movietone News, 
Paramount News, Fox Movietone News, etc., are all 
excellent uses of good camerawork and sound reproduc- 
tion. 1 To be mentioned also in this group are the numerous 
reconstruction films of war events, a feature of British pro- 
duction some years ago (Zeebrugge, Mons, The Somme, 
The Battles of Coronet and Falkland Islands, ' Q ' Ships, 
etc.). 

(b) The representation of past fact, without the intro- 
duction of fictional story-interest, is an attempt to put on 
record the actual happenings of some past event. Carl 
Dreyer's film La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc can well be cited 
as an example of this extremely difficult accomplishment, as 
well as Cserepy's mammoth production of the life of 
Frederick the Great, Fridericus Rex. 

1 Of all branches of cinema, the newsreels have perhaps been the least 
progressive since 1929. During the recent war, however, official Service 
cameramen showed great skill and courage in their coverage of the 
battlefronts. Films edited from their material, such as Desert Victory 
and The True Glory, set a new standard for actuality film-making. ^ In 
this section, also, should be included the monthly issues of the American 
March of Time, the recently started This Modern Age series from the 
J. Arthur Rank Organisation, the Why We Fight series, supervised 
by Frank Capra for the U.S. Army, and many other examples of edited 
material. Vide: The Arts Enquiry Report on The Factual Film (Oxford 
University Press, 1946). 

123 



THE ACTUAL 

(k) The Decorative Film and Art Film, as distinct from 
the Cine-Fiction Film 
This form of cinema is now almost obsolete, for the cost 
of production is inevitably greater than the returns from 
such a picture, if it is to be well done. No firm which has 
to satisfy its shareholders can afford to produce an art film 
for the sheer prestige of having done so. 1 Nevertheless, 
some notable and splendid examples of purely decorative 
films exist, most of them having been made during the early 
and middle periods of the German cinema. Perhaps the 
greatest picture of this kind is the first part of The Nibelun- 
gen Saga, Siegfried, made by Fritz Lang in 1923. No 
expense was spared on this magnificent film, which stands 
practically alone as an example of simplified decoration. 2 
On a smaller scale, Paul Leni's Waxworks deserves mention 
if only for the fine architecture, but it is to be understood 
that this type of cinema is more related to the theatre than 
to the film. A number of small, one- and two-reel art films 
have been made from time to time, but most of them, like 
Robert Florey's Loves of Zero, are insignificant. Fairbanks' 
The Thief of Bagdad, although negligible after the great- 
ness of Destiny, may be ranked as a pseudo-art film. 

(/) The Cine-Fiction Film 

This form of cinema naturally constitutes the bulk of the 
world's film output and may be roughly subdivided into 
four sections : 

(a) Modern comedies, farces, satires, and dramas, etc. 
Typical examples of these may be taken at random as : A 

Woman of Paris, Therese Raquin, The Crowd, The Love 
of Jeanne Ney, Piccadilly, The Spy, Les Nouveaux 
Messieurs, Vaudeville, Foolish Wives, The Virginian, The 
Kiss, etc. 

(b) Unrealistic costume and historical romances and 
dramas, etc., as : Tartuffe, The Patriot, Le Capitaine 

1 Pace, Mr. Rank. 

2 It would be fair, I think, to place Laurence Olivier's Henry V and 
Hamlet in this group. 

124 



THE VARIOUS FORMS OF CINEMA 

Fracasse, Forbidden Paradise, New Babylon, The Student 
of Prague, Scaramouche, Schinderhannes, Le Collier de la 
Reine, The Golem, Rosenkavalier, etc. 

(c) Spectacle films, without apparent decorative motive, 
instanced well by Ben-Hur, The Viking, Noah's Ark, The 
Ten Commandments, La Marseillaise, General Crack. These 
mammoth productions are usually of negligible aesthetic 
value, serving only as advertisements on a large scale for 
their producing firms, who scatter wholesale publicity as 
to the number of persons taking part, how much timber was 
used, the average weight of the cast, etc. They generally 
originate from Hollywood, for no other producing centre 
has the immense amount of money needed nor the time 
to waste. 

(d) Pure comedies, including slapstick, as distinct from 
the drawing-room comedies indicated above. All Chaplin 
films come into this group, as well as those of Lloyd, 
Keaton, and the lesser comedians; and such films as 
Moscow that Laughs and Weeps, Hurrah! Ym Alive, 
Rookery Nook, Les Deux Timides. 1 

(m) Musical, Dancing, and Singing Films 

These, usually on a large scale, have only been made 
possible by the advent of sound and dialogue reproduction. 
Already there have been outstanding successes in The 
Broadway Melody, Fox Movietone Follies, Rio Rita, 
Broadway, Sally, The Hollywood Revue of 1929, etc. There 
is little doubt that this type of light entertainment will be 
produced widely in the future to meet the constant demand 
for musical comedy, and with it will come the all-colour film 
and wider screen. 

1 The reader is referred to the greater breakdown of these types 
adopted in Movie Parade (Studio Publications, 1936). 



125 



Ill 

THE AMERICAN FILM 

By sheer ubiquity, American movies compel attention. 
Although they are, together with their British and German 
counterparts, the lowest form of public entertainment, their 
very number prevents their being ignored. In every country 
of the world where cinemas persuade both the hardworking 
and the rich to part with their money at the box-office, there 
is to be found celluloid of Hollywood origin, except Soviet 
Russia. Indeed, so far has the influence of the movie 
spread that its presence is noted not only in the cinema but 
in the wireless, the theatre, the Press, and in all matters of 
advertising. The star-system alone has penetrated the inner 
regions of every working-girl's heart, influencing her likes 
and her dislikes, her ideals and her dreams. Movies are a 
part of drawing-room gossip and dinner-table repartee. 
They have superseded the novel and the play as a topic of 
fashionable conversation. The first night of some movies 
may almost be as important a social occasion as the first 
night of an opera. 

Nine out of ten newspapers notice movies in their 
columns, and at least ninety per cent, of those mentioned are 
American. The cinematic terms of ' close-up ' and ' star ' 
are incorporated in the vocabulary of the English-speaking 
peoples, as well as being used all over Europe. One in ten 
poster hoardings displays cinema programme bills. A vast 
majority of the titles displayed are American. Except for a 
handful of home-made movies (demanded by the quota 
regulations) and a sparse sprinkling of foreign films, the 
programmes of British cinemas are composed of Hollywood 
movies. 1 

1 Eighty per cent, of British screen-space is at present occupied by- 
Hollywood footage (October, 1947). 

126 



THE AMERICAN FILM 

After some consideration, I have ultimately decided (with 
a few notable exceptions) to regard Hollywood much as I 
would a factory, managed and owned by a number of astute 
business men, who seek only large financial returns from the 
goods that they manufacture. Among the employees of 
these big firms is undoubtedly a number of artists, sin- 
cere in their aims, who sacrifice their intentions for the sake 
of a living, for which they are hardly to be belittled. It 
follows that the bigger the profits made by the owners for 
themselves and their shareholders, the vaster the business 
expands and the more pictures are manufactured. It has 
already been seen that American producing concerns, 
beginning in a small way by making one- or two-reel story- 
pictures, gradually developed the trade until, taking advan- 
tage of the situation offered by the first World War, they 
eventually assumed control of the world market. 

Now the vagaries of public taste are well known, and it 
has been the constant occupation of the film producer to 
gauge that taste and to keep abreast with its fluctuation. 
But, not content with pandering to the public taste, the film 
producer has also set out to create public likes and dislikes 
by clever advertising and world-wide distribution of certain 
classes of films. In a business-like way, the film men of 
Hollywood have experimented with the appetite of the 
public, and they are not to be blamed from a commercial 
point of view for having turned out stereotyped productions 
when the public has shown its acceptance of such forms. 
When any new type of film comes from Hollywood and is 
successful, there quickly follows a swarm of similar but 
inferior pictures, trading on the success of the first. 

To the shrewd observer of the cinema, the difficulty lies 
in differentiation between films demanded by public taste, 
and movies deliberately foisted upon the masses. The public 
does not by any means choose its own players. If a big 

American firm wish to put over Miss as a leading 

star, they can and will do so, by systematically presenting 
movies at their own chain of cinemas with that particular 
young lady in them. In time, seduced by an exhaustive 

127 



THE ACTUAL 

publicity campaign, by press photographs of the young lady 
in her underclothes, and by repeated appearances of the new 
star, the public will sit back in its tip-up plush seat and 
believe that it has discovered a fresh favourite; whilst the 
producing firm will sigh with temporary relief and set about 
keeping the young lady where they have put her. The 
whole matter resolves itself into the problem of gently per- 
suading the public that it likes a certain player in a certain 
type of picture, without the public becoming aware of the 
fact that it is being persuaded. There is, perhaps, a touch 
of Dziga-Vertov about it. Actually, it is simply the basic 
principle of advertising. Several players could be named 
who are stars simply because they appear with monotonous 
regularity three times a year. Obviously, in order to retain 
the ' popularity ' of their stars all over the world, no efforts 
have been spared by American producers in devising new 
methods for keeping their public and for the furtherance of 
constructing, packing, and selling their goods. There are 
practically no lengths to which a Hollywood firm will not 
go to sell a film. 1 

At this point it is of interest to sketch briefly the relation- 
ship of the public to the American cinema. From the early 
period of the first story-pictures until a year or two after 
the first World War, the American movie progressed in 
quality. It found constant support in the public primarily 
because of the novelty of the cinema itself. During the 
whole of this period, producers were assured of the loyalty 
of the public, which was continually on the increase. To 
many people, the film was still an innovation. They went 
to the cinema because it was the cinema, and not for any 
other reason. Nearly every big production converted more 
people to the ranks of the cinema-going public. The Birth 
of a Nation, Intolerance, The Four Horsemen of the 
Apocalypse, The Big Parade, and Ben-Hur all created new 

1 Of the many attempts to analyse and describe the growth of the 
Hollywood factories and the reaction of the American public to the 
movie, I find the best are The Rise of the American Film, Lewis Jacobs 
(Harcourt Brace, 1939) and America at the Movies Margaret Farrand 
Thorp (Yale University Press, 1939). 

128 




*v 



■r 



THE BIRTH OF A NATION, directed by D. W. Griffith. [American, 191 5] 




HIS OWN HOME TOWN, directed by Thomas Ince. Charles Ray. [American, 1918] 



THE AMERICAN FILM 

filmgoers. In the same way, one single showing of Battle- 
ship Potemkin and The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari gains 
believers in the film proper. During this period, therefore, 
from about 1912 until about 1920, the very marvelling of 
the general public, watching every new film with mouths 
agape, was sufficient for the studios to become established 
on a practical basis, capable of mass production. To this 
golden era belongs the best work of Griffith, Thomas Ince, 
and Mack Sennett, together with the sincere efforts of 
William S. Hart and Douglas Fairbanks. These pictures 
had a roughness about them, an intensity of feeling and an 
air of honesty that have long since vanished in the up-to- 
date slickness of the Hollywood movie. It may, perhaps, 
be said that the first indications of the star-system were 
making themselves shown, but although individual per- 
sonalities were gradually being associated with individual 
pictures, there was no wide exploitation of the fact. He 
Comes Up Smiling and Reaching for the Moon were seen 
because they were good cinema. They were invigorating 
and they were stimulating. They had not yet begun to 
be Fairbanks. 

But from this stage the American cinema began to 
succumb to the personality process, resulting in the 
tyrannical reign of the star-system, the super-film, and the 
publicity bluffing campaigns, all of which were to develop 
to such an extent that they defeated themselves. The 
producing companies made their great mistake when they 
decided to cater for the taste of the music-hall patron. The 
enthusiasm of the real public had already fallen off when 
directors tended to repeat themselves. The standard of 
films had reached a rut; a groove out of which it had to be 
jolted if big business was to be continued. Some 
new weapon was needed to stir the public out of 
its apathy. 

The Americans decided to recapture the attention of the 
public by the wholesale exploitation of stars; a process, if 
such it may be called, which was in its embryo with the 
success of films in which Chaplin, Fairbanks, Mary Pick- 

129 9 



THE ACTUAL 

ford, Gloria Swanson, etc., played. The film business of 
Hollywood was to become one big game of bluff. Obviously, 
those who bluffed hardest (and no nation in the world is so 
accomplished in the art of bluffing as the American) made 
the most money. The film men began to work (and some 
of them realise it now) to the detriment of the prestige of 
the film. The cinema lost a public who loved it for itself 
and what it meant to them. They had no liking for vaude- 
ville, for star turns on a big scale. In the place of the old 
filmgoer there arose a new type of audience, a vacant- 
minded, empty-headed public, who flocked to sensations, 
who thrilled to sexual vulgarity, and who would go any- 
where and pay anything to see indecent situations riskily 
handled on the screen. 

America exploited the star-system for all the dishonest 
business was worth. Competitions were organised; beauty 
contests arranged ; vast correspondence ' fan mails ' worked 
up; widespread campaigns of personal publicity launched; 
marriages and separations arranged ; whilst a public of the 
lowest and worst type responded with eagerness. They 
began to write letters to their favourite stars ; how old were 
they; how much were they worth; how much did they 
weigh; what sort of face cream did they use; why were 
they married; what were their children like (if any) and 
so on. This was encouraged and fanned by the publicity 
men. In contrast with the audiences of early days, people 
now went to the cinema to see films because of the stars who 
were in them. They cared nothing for the films themselves, 
so long as they were shown close-ups of their idols. 1 The 
star became a fetish, inasmuch that such a demand was 
created for movies that producing companies were unable 
to make them quickly enough. Naturally the stars them- 
selves commanded tremendous salaries that grew larger year 
by year. They became bloated and puffed up by their 
world-wide publicity. They took to playing three, four, 
and even five parts in the same film, achieved by means of 

1 Incidentally, one shudders at the gross abuse of the technical 
resources of the medium, in particular the misuse of the close-up. 

130 



THE AMERICAN FILM 

double exposure. Audiences exulting and thrilled, feasted 
their eyes and thoughts on the form of the star. Many 
famous names occur at this time, names that rose up and 
were forgotten. A few stayed, but they were exceptional. 
The Talmadge sisters, Wallace Reid, Rudolph Valentino, 
Pauline Frederick, the inimitable Mae Murray, Nita Naldi, 
Richard Dix, Thomas Meighan, Tom Moore, Dorothy and 
Lillian Gish, Viola Dana, and scores of others, all possessed 
manufactured screen personalities. The ideal type for the 
film star was the blank-minded, non-temperamental player, 
steeped in sex and sheathed in satin, who was admirably 
suited to movie 'acting', which called for no display of deep 
emotions, no subtlety, no sensitivity, no delicacy, no guile. 
All through her career Norma Talmadge achieved success 
by looking slightly perplexed and muzzy about the eyes. But 
audiences worshipped her; wrote to her for signed photo- 
graphs; hung them over their beds and got a thrill out of 
them ; and told their friends how great an actress she was. 
The Rudolph Valentino affair was worked with such success 
that, after his death, a guild was actually formed of people 
who had never set eyes on him to perpetuate his name. The 
publicity departments played the handsome Italian, with the 
cauliflower ear and the hundred per cent, sex, so well that 
anything became possible. It was even rumoured that Pola 
Negri's playing in Hotel Imperial was due to the emotions 
she was undergoing at the time because of the death of her 
beloved Valentino ! Is it to be wondered that no sane- 
thinking person could see anything at all possible in the 
vaunted aesthetic value of the cinema? 

The star-system achieved for Hollywood and the cinema 
in general an unenviable reputation. It called forth denun- 
ciations and castigations from conservative constitutions 
and religious bodies, which, of course, it thoroughly 
merited. Not, that is to say, from a moral, but from a film 
point of view, for the morals of a film star are entirely his 
or her own affair. It was the star-system that should have 
been attacked ; not its victims, but its sponsors, the American 
producing concerns. The star-system was nothing more or 

131 



THE ACTUAL 

less than a flagrant prostitution of creative intelligence and 
good film material. 

As has been indicated, bound up with the task of public 
acceptance of the star-system, there arose vast publicity 
campaigns organised by producing concerns to ' get across ' 
their own particular stars and pictures. America fights half 
her film battles with publicity campaigns. At least two- 
thirds of the film writers in the United States and in 
Britain are mere gossip writers, who retail more or less 
scandalous news that is sent to them from the studios. 
There are not twenty critics in this country who know the 
first thing about films save what the publicity sheets issued 
from the studios tell them. 1 Every company floods critics 
and editors of newspapers and periodicals all over the world 
with ready-made press publicity, until the journalists lose 
all sense of values. During the height of the star-system 
every available detail, the more personal the better, was 
published about American film stars. Papers were deluged 
with highly-coloured matter from big firms, each exag- 
gerating the talents of their individual stars. These 
descriptions were typical of the hypocrisy and dissimulation 
of Hollywood. But producing firms realised as well that 
the tone of their publicity must be given the appearance of 
purity. From the public's outlook, it was the halo round 
the star that mattered. It was imperative to keep it un- 
broken. Both publicity departments and the Hays Organi- 
sation took every care to hide up any scandal or 
misbehaviour that should occur in Hollywood. Quite 
obviously, if scandalous accounts were circulated about 
some hard-faced, smoothly-shingled young virgin who 
played sweet innocent heroines, the general public were apt 
to become dubious as to whether they were having their legs 
pulled or not. This, however, does not prevent temporary 
scandals and movements in the divorce market from re- 
ceiving current publicity. To counteract this, some 
thousands of photographs are circulated yearly of well- 

1 In retrospect my estimate was optimistic. 

132 



THE AMERICAN FILM 

known film stars in familiar and entirely creditable attitudes. 
The public are saturated with this sort of publicity, and 
believe it all. A typical story is cited by Walter Kron, who 
quotes from a criticism by an American woman journalist, 
Louella Parsons, as follows : ' ... his work as Lord 
Nelson in The Divine Lady proved what a really fine artist 
he is. With an arm missing and blind in one eye, he still 
managed to have sex appeal/ Another favourite method of 
retaining public esteem is the personal appearance. ' Miss 
travels specially to London for the opening per- 
formance of her new film ', and so on. 

The continued forcing of the star-system inevitably called 
for new faces and fresh talent, and before long producers 
were raking the world for suitable aspirants to film fame. 
This, in due course, led to the distressing habit of * dis- 
covering ' likely persons in countries thousands of miles 
from California, transporting them, buoyed up by false 
promises, to Hollywood where, after a few months of 
exaggerated publicity, they were forsaken without so much 
as making one film appearance, being left to find their way 
home as best they might. Although less guilty in this 
respect, British studios have tried the same devices of 
beauty competitions and the like. The chances are remote 
that the winner of any film contest has any cinematic talent 
whatsoever beyond an insipid, pretty face. All these dis- 
reputable methods of finding film ' talent ' are of no use to 
the progress of the cinema. 

As time went on, the haloes of existing stars in Holly- 
wood began visibly to pale. Producers were continually 
forced to find new stars. Fresh names began to replace the 
old favourites, and stars of the calibre of Dolores del Rio, 
Sue Carol, Lupe Velez, and Joan Crawford appeared from 
remote corners of the stage or studio crowd work. Produc- 
tions became more and more costly. The spectacle film, 
which for some years had lain low, developed into the 
super-film, and once more casts of thousands, costing 
millions of dollars, were employed to attract the public. 
At the same time, hundreds of feature-films were made to 

133 



THE ACTUAL 

type; and one became accustomed to whole groups of 
movies of the same variety. There was a craze for war 
films, air films, underworld films, mother-love films, night- 
life films, backstage films, Spanish films, costume films, etc. 

At this juncture, it is felt necessary to retrace the years, 
in order to appreciate the influence of talent imported from 
Europe to American studios. Shortly after the first World 
War, as has been seen, Germany, Denmark and Sweden 
gave plentiful evidence of the genius and technical brilliance 
that lay in their studios. The magnates, astute as ever in 
their business outlook, realised that these European intelli- 
gences had delved down much further into the cinema than 
had those of the superficial directors of Hollywood. They 
recognised, moreover, that Britain and France admired the 
aesthetic qualities of the German film, and they determined 
to flavour their own movies with some of this evidently 
' artistic ' talent. Not only this, but the increasing necessity 
for the international cinema to quiet the suspicions of com- 
mercial influence, made the installation of the foreign 
element in Hollywood desirable. American producers, 
therefore, sought to refresh their shop-soiled productions 
by the influence of German and Swedish film technique, 
followed later by importations of French, German, and 
Hungarian players and directors. From then onwards, 
American firms acquired talent from Europe as soon as it 
made itself apparent. The tale of British actors who have 
made good in Hollywood is too old a wound to be re-opened. 

The German and Swedish element in the Hollywood 
studios marked a new era in American film output. It is 
significant that although the majority of German films failed 
outside their country of origin, two were successful in the 
United States. Dubarry (renamed Passion) and Carmen 
(renamed Gypsy Blood) both directed by Ernst Lubitsch, 
with Pola Negri, were well received. As a result, Miss 
Negri went to Hollywood, to be followed shortly by 
Lubitsch, and it was not long before most of the remainder 
of the Europeans deserted the sinking ship and settled down 
in California. The list is too long to be given in full, but 

134 



THE AMERICAN FILM 

pre-eminent among the exodus were Emil Jannings, Conrad 
Veidt, Lya de Putti, Greta Garbo, Camilla Horn, Lars 
Hanson, Nils Asther, Greta Nissen, Dimitri Buchowetski, 
Paul Leni, Fred Murnau, Ludwig Berger, Erich Pommer, 
E. A. Dupont, Victor Seastrom, and the late Mauritz Stiller. 
Yet not one of these directors or players, having been 
bought by dollars, but fell into the Hollywood groove of 
living. The movie kings housed and fed these valued 
importations like prize cattle, and succeeded after some 
struggling in taming them for their needs. A few broke 
loose after a time and returned to the European fold, where 
they have for the most part failed to regain their former 
status. So strong is the dollar influence of Hollywood that 
it is necessary to consider the works of these directors in 
two phases, the pre-Hollywood and the Hollywood period. 
For example, on the score of appearances, I find it impos- 
sible to accept the Murnau who made Faust and The Last 
Laugh as the same man who later made Sunrise and The 
Four Devils. Some link between the two pairs of films is 
sought in vain. They seem the work of separate persons : 
the first of an artist, working with sincerity among har- 
monious surroundings; the second, of a pseudo artist 
muddling under extreme difficulties of super-abundance. 

Of the individual influence of the Europeans on the 
American movie more will be said later, but it is to be 
remembered that their work was to set examples for the 
younger Hollywood school of directors to imitate. 
Lubitsch's The Marriage Circle and Kiss Me Again type of 
film served as a copy-book to a dozen of the young directors. 
Monta Bell, Mai St. Clair, Victor Heerman, Frank Tuttle, 
Harry Beaumont, Roy del Ruth, William Wellman, and all 
the rest of these clever young men modelled their work 
on a mixture of Lubitsch and Chaplin. It was the era of a 
new type of comedy, not the slapstick of Lloyd or the 
ludicrous style of Keaton, but a suave, polished, slick, 
slightly-satirical, sexual comedy. It was a fusion, perhaps, 
of the American flair for brilliance and the German ten- 
dency towards the psychological. It was to produce the 

135 



THE ACTUAL 

Man, Woman, and Sin, Sex in Fetters, Broadway After 
Midnight type of movie. It was a new quality in the 
American film, quite different from the natural Western 
element and the spectacle picture, and has been tremendously 
successful. It is found to-day (1930) in the plentiful 
adaptations of Lonsdale and Somerset Maugham plays to 
the dialogue film. Charming Sinners, Interference, and 
The Last of Mrs. Cheyney are cases in point. 

It is not illogical that such an industry as the American 
movie, possessing an aim of the maximum amount of profit 
from the minimum necessary expenditure of time and 
labour, should be constructed on an extremely well- 
organised basis. Whatever may be said against American 
methods, it cannot be denied that they have developed their 
system of working to a highly perfected state. No man 
finds employment in a Hollywood film studio unless he 
knows his job. That job is his business and he manages it 
as such. That is where the Hollywood studio differs from 
the British studio. The American film man knows nothing 
whatsoever about the aesthetics of the film, its possibilities 
or its development, and he cares less. He is out for his 
pay-check, and the making of movies happens to be the 
way he is doing it. He might just as well be engaged in a 
chemical factory or coal-mine, except that the movie life is 
a pleasant one. Organisation of studio work, about which 
so much is written in the second part of this survey, has been 
carried to excess in Hollywood. Each studio works 
according to its own plan. No fresh production is started 
without careful pre-consideration as to its type, the selling 
methods to be employed with the completed picture, and the 
mentality of the public to whom it is to appeal. A schedule 
of production for a year's output is the result of much 
deliberation. No reasonable period of time or amount of 
money is spared on a movie. Every official in every studio 
has his allotted time and a definite amount of money for 
his particular job. In fact, he is simply a cog in a highly- 
efficient organisation, manufacturing pictures according to 
formula. Moreover, the Americans are perfectly serious- 

136 



THE AMERICAN FILM 

minded in their movie methods. They thought of them; 
they developed them ; and they have profited by them. 1 

The American film man is amazingly hard-working. His 
heart is thoroughly in his job. He understands the business 
so long as it remains business ; as soon as it becomes some- 
thing more, entailing appreciation of beauty, subtlety of wit, 

1 Cf . the following excerpt from Kinematograph Weekly, April 24th, 
1947, in an interview with the British writer-director Frank Launder, 
on his return from Hollywood : 

' Launder met most of the people worth meeting in Hollywood, 
and particularly those engaged in the more creative departments 
of picture-making, such as writers and directors. He found among 
them what he felt to be a feeling of frustration because of the 
curbing of original ideas. 

'A great deal of this frustration he attributes to the state of 
mind which appears to exist in the " front offices " of the major 
companies. Rising costs have made the executives more than ever 
anxious for solid box-office success. The tendency in story selection 
therefore is to play safe : and the big majority of " front offices " 
to-day play safe by consulting the Gallup Poll and its subsidiary, 
Audience Research. 

' These reputedly scientific public opinion probes have very 
definitely sold themselves to Hollywood. Long before a film is 
ready for production, in fact, as soon as a property is acquired, 
Audience Research gets to work. It offers the producers a com- 
prehensive service. Everything you want to know about your 
subject. Checks are made on title, story trends, popularity of the 
period in which it is set, story ending, star values — in fact, anything 
and everything which can provide information in advance about the 
probable public reaction to the mooted story. 

' Hollywood executives, asserts Launder, have a touching faith 
in the value of these probes ; and these days it is a courageous and 
independent man who disregards their findings. In a business 
badgered by rising costs and labour troubles, which arise all too 
frequently, the Hollywood executive to-day is almost feverish in 
the search for some kind of insurance on his company's story invest- 
ments. Most of them seem to believe that Audience Research is 
the answer. 

' The result, says Launder, is that most writers with fresh and 
original ideas are restricted and limited. In the case of the more 
modest films, the writers often do little more than put into screen 
formula the findings of the research sleuths. Most of them have 
to trim their treatments according to the astrology of the 
questionnaires. 

' Launder's experience is that nearly all the rank and file writers, 
among whom are many who are potentially brilliant, are filled 
with a sense of frustration, and even the king-pins of script-makers 
are irked and handicapped in a similar way. 

' Originality, faith in a central idea and the bold development of 
it by a team of artist-craftsmen, the formula for picture-making 
that has produced so many fine and commercially successful films, 
means less in Hollywood to-day, according to " front office " 
standards.' 

137 



THE ACTUAL 

psychology of emotions, then he is as good as finished. He 
takes refuge in calling it modern, artistic and what is even 
worse, highbrow. The only highbrow films are those made 
by dilettantes and intelligentsia (e.g. the American Fall of 
the House of Usher; Florey's Loves of Zero; Leu Lye's 
Tusylava). No pure film is futurist, avant-garde, highbrow, 
or precious. No Soviet film is advanced, or ' artistic ', or 
even difficult to understand. (It is, on the contrary, made 
for the simple peasant mind.) But the Hollywood film man 
would call Ten Days That Shook the World or Mother an 
art-film, for the reason that they are a more natural form 
of cinema than the sophisticated movie to which he is accus- 
tomed. The Last Laugh was an example of the funda- 
mental use of cinematic technique, yet the film man of 
Hollywood and Elstree will avoid discussing it. He is 
afraid of it. So also is the average film critic. If he sees 
any new film which he does not immediately comprehend, 
he will call it ' highbrow ' and leave it severely alone instead 
of analysing its properties. When the famous Soviet film, 
Battleship Potemkin was shown in London in November 
1929, not one of the regular newspaper critics was able to 
give a clear, intelligent, broad-minded criticism of it. They 
shirked it by weakly calling it Soviet propaganda. They 
were ashamed to admit that their knowledge of the func- 
tions of the cinema did not allow them to analyse this out- 
standing film. The average American film man can speak 
of nothing but movies. In Hollywood they talk films, make 
films, and live films, entirely from a business point of view. 
The average British film man knows little about films. He 
knows all about golf and football, but he has seldom seen 
a recent production. 1 

All the big, but not necessarily good, films have come 
from Hollywood, simply because no other country has the 
money to make them, and even if they had, they would not 
know what to do with them. In America, the more money 

1 It is indeed pleasant, some eighteen years later, to report the 
opposite. There is probably more sensible discussion of films in British 
studios to-day than in any other country. 

138 



THE AMERICAN FILM 

expended on the production of a film, the greater it is in the 
eyes of the producers and also the public. How often has 
not the eternal slogan of the cast of twenty thousand 
players and the film which cost two million dollars been 
seen on London poster hoardings ? x 

Moreover, Americans appreciate the value of perfected 
technical accomplishment, which British executives do not 
realise. Hollywood companies know well that the general 
public will be the first to spot bad lighting, inferior camera- 
work, shoddy settings, and badly-designed dresses. They 
recognise the importance of the real thing, and they appre- 
ciate the public's liking for appearances. If silk brocade is 
needed for a curtain, the Americans will not use cheap 
cotton, because they know that the fake will be noticeable. 
They will go to interminable lengths to get things right. If 
the scenario demands, they will build London in Hollywood 
or go to Italy to film Ben-Hur. They would buy the suit 
off the King's back if they could get it, or failing that, have 
an exact replica made of it. The American movie producer 
and director are immensely painstaking, and that is to their 
credit. On the other hand, they will make mistakes about 
the simplest and most ordinary things. What Price Glory ? 
was notorious for its military discrepancies. Money for new 
mechanical equipment, up-to-date camera devices, newly 
invented lighting systems or intricate laboratory appliances 
is never wanting. The Americans know the value of these 
necessities. Two-thirds of American movies * get across ' 
in Britain solely because of their good dressing. Technical 
accomplishment plays a large part in the polish of the 
Hollywood movie. The quality of the photography is 
usually faultless. Moving shots and camera operating are 
always beyond reproach, no matter whether aesthetically 
they are being used rightly or wrongly. It is rare to see an 
American * extra ' badly made-up. An American movie 
star's clothes are always exquisite. Cheapness and shabbi- 
ness are unknown in the Hollywood studios. For this 
reason alone, the American movie is always successful. The 

1 And still is to-day. 

139 



THE ACTUAL 

general public, judging largely from outward appearances 
and knowing little of the cinema itself, welcomes its glitter. 

And, as is to be expected, Hollywood movies are slick, 
facile, and well-finished. At the same time, they display an 
absence of good taste, of intelligence, and, if the term is 
allowable, of culture. These qualities, so essential to the 
cinema, are lacking in the American film director and pro- 
ducer. It is these which they have tried to buy with dollars 
from Europe, which they have gradually found to be 
unbuyable. 

There is found, then, at the close of the pre-dialogue 
period of the American film, a mixed selection of produc- 
tions mostly being made according to formula. They have 
been well named ' committee-made pictures \ In most cases, 
the director is not his own master, being under the control 
of the producing board, the sole desire of which is to turn 
out a certain number of standardised pictures during the 
year. Directorial talent has been subdued and shaped into a 
single quality, the raison d'etre of every Hollywood director 
worthy of his name, picture-sense. Picture-sense con- 
trols the choice of theme, the treatment, the players, and 
the presentation. Hollywood has rigidly schooled herself 
into looking at every film from a picture-sense angle. The 
ingredients of a successful film, conceived from a picture- 
sense point of view, may be said to be : a strong, powerful 
theme (preferably sexual) ; a highly polished, quick-moving 
technique, employing all the most recent discoveries (usually 
German); a story-interest that will carry the sex, at the 
same time allowing for spectacle and at least two high 
spots; and a cast of international players. 1 Of such a type 
were Flesh and the Devil, The Last Command, The Patriot, 
Wild Orchids, and The Kiss. Hundreds of pictures based 
on this formula were being produced just prior to the 
general adoption of the dialogue film. The same idea was 
being carried out in Britain with Piccadilly, and in 
Germany with Volga Volga. 

1 Cf . Footnote on p. 137. Ought we not, then, to be more than usually 
grateful for a Grapes of Wrath, a Crossfire, a Story of G.I. Joe and a 
Strange Incident? 

140 



THE AMERICAN FILM 

American pictures are filled with people, for prominent 
among the movie beliefs of Hollywood is the conception 
that the general public is more interested in people than in 
things. Seldom is a landscape, or a piece of architecture, 
used in an American film for its own beautiful sake. (The 
work of Henry King and Robert Flaherty may be taken as 
exceptional.) Only as a background to people does the 
American producer allow nature to interfere. Typical of 
this belief is the film White Shadows, in which even the 
hard hand of Hollywood, personified in the haggard Monte 
Blue and sex-charged Raquel Torres, could not subdue the 
waving palms and mountainous cumulus clouds of the south 
seas, which Van Dyke's cameramen succeeded in photo- 
graphing so well. In all probability there are a few 
directors in Hollywood who would, if given the oppor- 
tunity, make films of sincerity, but they are continually 
manacled by the one great obstacle, picture-sense or box- 
office. They cannot afford to break away and attempt to 
produce on their own. The combines are far too strong. 
Only the star-producers of the Chaplin, Fairbanks, Pick- 
ford and Swanson group work alone and pursue their own 
methods, but even they are afraid of the demands of the 
distributors. Perhaps Chaplin only is in the position to 
make films as he really wishes, but even he cannot afford 
to make another Woman of Paris. Fairbanks and Pick ford 
are to be sincerely admired for their efforts to create better 
American films. They realise, at least, that they are lacking 
in some of the essentials of good cinema, and are not afraid 
to go to the source for the benefit of learning. 

The mentality of the American film magnate is per- 
plexing. His futile mistakes and brilliant successes are a 
continual source of wonderment. The Americanisation of 
Emil Jannings is typical of Hollywood methods. In 
reviewing the position, it may be recalled that Paramount 
secured the ' world's greatest actor ', the man who shook 
the audiences of the entire cinema by his powerful per- 
formances in tragedy and comedy. In early days, he 
became known in Peter the Great, Danton, The Loves of 

141 



THE ACTUAL 

Pharaoh, as Louis XV in Dubarry, as Henry VIII in Anne 
Boleyn, etc. This was Jannings, the repertory player, with 
the stage and Reinhardt uppermost in his mind. From this 
came Jannings the film actor, finding his bearing? in the 
new medium, dropping the old theatrical ideas and finding 
fresh filmic ones. During this period he did his best work, 
in Waxworks, Nju, The Last Laugh, Faust, Tartuffe, 
Vaudeville, in both comedy and tragedy. And then Jannings 
in Hollywood, with the picture-sense men running round 
him in circles, crying * what shall we do with him, now we 
have got him here?' like so many pet dogs round a bull. 
They looked at all his past films, diagnosed the successes, 
noted the powerful bits, rehashed them for stock, and 
decided to construct individual masterpieces based on small 
incidents in his former triumphs. The public would never 
recognise old wine in new bottles; they would be too 
occupied in acclaiming the world's greatest actor now 
starring in Paramount productions. Thus The Way of All 
Flesh was a clever reassembling of Vaudeville, the white- 
haired old man and all. Compare, also, The Last Com- 
mand with The Last Laugh, with bits of Vaudeville thrown 
in to make up weight. Look again at The Sins of the 
Fathers, The Street of Sin, The Betrayal, and they will all 
be found to be revampings of the European Jannings. The 
transposition was, of course, well done, and the public 
acclaimed Jannings to be ' greater ' than ever. The ovation 
accorded The Patriot was unprecedented, and yet it was a 
very banal performance, in nauseating bad taste. Publicity 
from the Paramount studios lent glamour to the position. 
At one time, a London film journal actually printed a 
statement that Jannings, having had two reels of The Last 
Laugh shown through to him in Hollywood, sat back and 
deplored the bad acting. This, it is to be admitted, is clever 
publicity. Later, they sent Jannings back to Berlin, ' on 
holiday ', for he was considered of little use in the dialogue 
film. In order to cover up the injustice of the act, they 
presented him with the highest honour, the annual award 
of merit bestowed by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts 

142 






THE AMERICAN FILM 

and Sciences for the most notable screen work during the 
year. They actually dared to present this to him as he left 
Hollywood, with his dismissal in his pocket ! Universale 
mishandling of Conrad Veidt was of a similar nature. It 
was almost unbearable to watch Veidt's painful striving 
with the impossible role of Gwynplaine in The Man Who 
Laughs, when comparatively fresh in the mind was his 
exquisite performance in The Student of Prague. Imagine 
Universal, with ' Uncle ' Carl Laemmle and all, murmuring 
thus : ' Here is this great emotional actor, who plays with 
such intense force that his mind appears warped, portraying 
on his narrow face the inner conflict of self with terrible 
truth, under contract to us. What part shall we put him 
over in ? How can we make him greater still ? Let us take 
away the use of his mouth, and make him act with his eyes 
and hands. Let us give him a permanent smile and then 
make him play tragedy. Think of the sensation . . / 

Searching for the true characteristics of the American 
film, as distinct from European influence, it is found that 
youth, vitality, space, and movement are the chief attributes 
of the movie. American traditions, generally speaking, 
date back only to the time of the civil war, and, as in her 
literature, many of her movies, especially those of the early 
war-period, carry themes relative to that event. Both com- 
mercially and socially, America has been far too busy to 
devote any sincere attention to the arts, with the result that 
there is no contemporary school of American painting 
recognised in Europe, and her literature is marked only by 
isolated achievements. The average American citizen has 
more sympathy with a mechanic or an engineer than with 
an artist or a writer. Painting or composing is a dilettante 
profession. Rudolph Messel in his analysis of the American 
mentality has traced the development of the cowboy mind 
from the days of the great gold rush into the modern-day 
healthy American with money as his sole aim. 1 Much of 
the American mind is occupied with a primitive instinct for 
fight and possession, an instinct that is the basis for many 

1 Vide, The Film Business, by Rudolph Messel (Benn, 1928). 

143 



THE ACTUAL 

movies {viz., the early Westerns, with their gunmen and 
hard-riding cowboys; the recent vogue for underworld 
crook stories, with gangsters, etc.). Out of this primitive 
mind comes also the strong physical feeling, particularly in 
the dynamic American girl. Nearly every movie is 
saturated in sex stimulant; a quality that is increasing with 
the dialogue film, and is uppermost in almost every direc- 
tor's and producer's mind, not only in Hollywood, but in 
Britain, France and Germany. The most popular stars in 
Paris are Joan Crawford and Victor McLaglen (1929). 
Every girl chosen for a part in a British film is judged 
by her amount of sex, according to outward appearances. 
Yet one of the most sexual pictures ever produced was 
Room's Bed and Sofa, which contained the theme of a 
man's selfish attitude towards women, a state of mind 
which Room tried to counteract. Bound up with this 
sexually primitive, fighting, self-possessive state of 
American mentality is a warped sense of religion and a 
false pride of patriotism, both of which find expression in 
the movie. The King of Kings, The Godless Girl, What 
Price Glory? and The Big Parade exemplify this point. 

Youth is one of the essentials of the American film. In 
the studios there is ever a search for youth, for with it go 
the vitality and dynamicism that are inseparable from the 
true function of the movie. Youth and movement were 
the keynotes of Our Dancing Daughters, The First Kiss, 
Wings, The Legion of the Condemned, Beau Geste, and 
countless others of the same brand. Clara Bow, Fay Wray, 
Charles Rogers, Richard Arlen, Nancy Carroll, Anita Page, 
Sue Carol are all symbols of the American drama of youth. 

Pace, together with the combined motives of sex, youth, 
and spaciousness, is the chief reason for the success of the 
American movie. It was the vitality of movement in such 
films as The Broadway Melody, Hollywood Revue, Ben- 
Hur, Beau Geste, College Days, The General, The Black 
Pirate, and Wings which made them popular, as well as 
the underlying factors of publicity and the star-system. One 
rarely observes a European film with such pace as was con- 

144 




TOM, DICK AND HARRY, directed by Garson Kanin. Burgess Meridith, 
Ginger Rogers. [American, 1940] 




THEODORA GOES WILD, directed by Richard Boleslawski. Irene Dunne. 
[American, 1937] 



THE AMERICAN FILM 

tained in these movies; but this pace is only movement of 
material, a distinction which is explained on page 341. 
Pace of material reaches back through the years to the 
silk-legged Mack Sennett slapsticks, to the fast-moving 
Westerns, where it touches the feeling for spaciousness. 
Every audience delights in the vast spaciousness of the 
Western cinema. The cowboy films with their valueless 
stories, their lean riders and flaxen-haired rancher's 
daughters in gingham frocks, brought to the screen a sense 
of unlimited horizons, of far-reaching desert. But the real 
Western is gradually fading from the American cinema. 
Instead there is the spaciousness of rooms, great, tall, 
ceilingless rooms; and of cities, with buiMings reaching 
into the sky. Only on rare occasions is a small set seen in 
an American movie. To the Hollywood director, a dining- 
room must stretch away into infinity, with doors running 
up out of sight, and polished, reflecting floors. . . . 

But space, sex, vitality and youth are but material from 
which the film director constructs his work. The pace of 
the American movie is not necessarily the pace of film. It 
is in the construction, in the best use of the resources 
peculiar to the cinema, in the employment of the properties 
and the attributes of the screen, that the Americans fail. 
They have no knowledge of the rendering of their material. 
They are unable to contrive its assembling, its relationship, 
its meaning with any degree of sincerity. In the filmic 
treatment and composition of this rich material, the 
American allows business to overcome the proper functions 
of the cinema. For this sense of filmic representation, for 
this real use of the cinema, it is imperative to turn to other 
countries whose traditions and culture make possible a 
better understanding of the values of the film as an 
instrument of expression. 1 

The dialogue film became an actual commercial certainty 

1 In making any study of the sociological aspects of the American 
cinema, the reader is recomme/nded for background to Frederick Lewis 
Allen's two informal social histories, Only Yesterday and Since 
Yesterday, which unhappily were not available when the above 
paragraphs were written in 1929. 

145 10 



THE ACTUAL 

when the Warner Brothers' producing concern, on the 
verge of financial collapse as a result of the failure of their 
silent programme, decided to exploit the Vitaphone, a 
talking film apparatus on the disc method, for which they 
held the rights. The whole affair was a matter of chance, 
a shot in the dark, with a well-known variety artist as the 
box-office appeal. The gamble succeeded. To the general 
surprise of Hollywood, who had little faith in the dialogue 
film, the public of America received the novelty of the 
speaking and singing entertainment with open arms. It 
offered an alternative to the machine-made movie. Imme- 
diately a stampede took place among the producing firms, 
for within a short time Warner Brothers were making 
tremendous profits out of their venture. There was a rush 
by the companies to secure equipment, to convert their silent 
studios into sound-proof ones, to build new stages, to find 
suitable subjects, to test the voices of their stars, and to buy 
from the theatre all the adjuncts of the voice. Hollywood 
turned yet another corner in her crazy career. She threw 
aside all the ideas and processes by which she had built up 
her vast industry; she risked the adaptability of her 
directors to this new device; she chanced the success of her 
established stars, now that their voices were to be heard. 
She discarded all her well-tried systems and staked her 
opportunities of further success on the novelty of a new 
invention. 

The results were not in the least surprising. The 
reaction of the public, who were taken unawares, was 
inevitable. They were as eager to hear this new invention 
as they had been to see the kinetoscope. Up till the present 
moment, the general interest of the public remains held by 
the dialogue film, but there are tendencies to show that the 
first craze is subsiding. There is a feeling of uncertainty 
abroad. 

Of the types of dialogue film as yet observed, there are 
roughly four varieties : the adapted stage play, an obvious 
source to which producers immediately turned for ready- 
made dialogue; the thriller, being an extension of the old 

146 



THE AMERICAN FILM 

crook melodrama, with slang, bangs, and every conceivable 
noise; the sentimental, individual-appeal picture, which 
relies on the personality of one star; and the musical 
comedy, the backstage type of movie with a slight story- 
interest serving as an excuse for colour and syncopation. 

In the first category may be placed The Last of Mrs. 
Cheyney, The Doctor's Secret, Madame X, and Charming 
Sinners, all of which were adapted stage plays, notable for 
their slow theatrical development, their sparkling dialogue 
and their uncinematic quality. In the second are such 
pictures as The Perfect Alibi, Bulldog Drummond, and Dr. 
Fu Manchu, being entertainment along popular lines but 
without any value. In the third, the sobbing performance 
of Al Jolson in The Singing Fool and The Jazz Singer, 
and the charm of Maurice Chevalier in The Innocents of 
Paris, being remarkable only for their variety elements. 
While in the fourth is the descendant of the super-spectacle 
film, with dancing and singing and colour, such as The 
Hollywood Revue, The Fox Movietone Follies, On With 
the Show, and The Broadway Melody, all of which suffer 
from their lack of camera movement and other filmic 
properties, being successful because of their musical num- 
bers and chorus work. 

There have also been individual experiments along the 
lines of Gloria Swanson's The Trespasser and the Pickford- 
Fairbanks' version of Taming of the Shrew. Both these 
productions have obvious merits, but neither can be con- 
sidered within the range of genuine cinema. I have only 
seen two American dialogue films that have had true 
quality, King Vidor's Hallelujah! and Victor Fleming's 
The Virginian, and these only because of the use of sound 
for dramatic emphasis. 

Mention has already been made of the use of sound in 
the accompaniment of the animated cartoon film. The 
Mickey Mouse cartoons have definitely achieved the 
beginnings of the wedded sound-and-visual-image film, 
which will be developed in the course of time, 

147 



IV 
THE AMERICAN FILM (continued) 

Among the countless movies made in Hollywood are 
many which demand inclusion in this survey, and investiga- 
tion of their qualities can best be made through an 
examination of their individual directors, placing the pro- 
ductions in their allotted groups as they occur. It must be 
stated that whatever good and harm American directors 
and producers have done to the cinema, there are certain 
developments originating in Hollywood for which she must 
be given credit. For example, the Americans were the first 
persons interested in the cinema to discover that the film- 
play possessed functions peculiar to itself. Although the 
original use of the camera as an instrument of creative 
imagination is not found until Wiene's The Cabinet of 
Doctor Caligari, Griffith certainly determined that the 
capabilities of the film were not to make a simple record 
of the material placed in front of the lens of the camera, 
but that they consisted in the reproduction of that material 
on a screen by a process peculiar to the film alone. Griffith, 
at an early stage in the history of the cinema, was the first 
director with the intelligence to attempt to organise the 
scenario-manuscript ; to make dramatic use of the close-up, 
the fade-in and the fade-out, being technical devices of the 
camera which, although discovered before Griffith used 
them, had not been utilised as a means of dramatic effect. 

The films of Griffith 1 are to be regarded as well- 
constructed models of contrasted tension, achieved by the 
gradual narration of consecutive incidents, with the action 
planned in such a manner that the dramatic tension of the 
film rises to a powerful climax at the conclusion. This 
climactic ending to the Griffith pictures found outlet in 
what is popularly called ' the last-minute-rescue \ Actually, 
this was simply a working-up of excitement towards the 

1 Died in Hollywood, July, 1948. 

14a 



THE AMERICAN FILM 

final sequence of action, thereby making a satisfactory 
rounding-off to the film. The continuity process of parallel 
action will be mentioned later in this connection. Griffith, 
moreover, was not only content to construct his climax 
from the actions of his characters, but he contrived the 
story so as to intensify the final struggle of the theme by 
using the conflicting elements of nature, of rain, snow, 
storm, and ice. This use of atmospheric environment 
heightened the Griffith climax to an almost indescribable 
pitch of emotion, well seen in the snowstorm, the melting 
river of ice and the awe-inspiring waterfall in Way Down 
East. It will be remembered that the elements increased 
in intensity towards the final struggle. In this example 
from Way Down East, Griffith used not only the available 
natural resources, but heightened the thrill of the rescue 
from the waterfall by the capabilities of the camera itself 
by contrasting two streams of movement. In this sequence 
of events, the snowstorm, the ice-floes, and the waterfall, 
each increasing in strength, formed a comparative back- 
ground to the increasing despair of the characters them- 
selves in the narrative. Love followed in the footsteps of 
despair. As a contrast to this turbulence of natural 
resources may be taken the gradual atmospheric changes in 
America, of twilight and of morning. Griffith is a master 
of natural effect; and his influence is seen in many Soviet 
films. 1 It will be found, also, that in his earlier and better 
films, Griffith always chose his characters from the normal 
stream of life, and developed their fictitiously constructed 
lives in a world quite normal to them. (Isn't Life 
Wonderful?, The Birth of a Nation, Way Down East, 
America, etc.) 

The ' last-minute-rescue ', such a prominent feature of the 
Griffith film, had been used at an early date in The Life of 
an American Fireman (1903), and has been in constant 
employment since then. The girl at the guillotine; the 

1 Recall the mist scenes at Odessa in Battleship Potemkin and the 
death of the ' Partisan ' leader in Storm Over Asia, both instances of 
natural atmospheric effect in the Griffith manner. 

149 



THE ACTUAL 

knife about to fall; the approaching riders flourishing the 
pardon; the little details that hinder the fall of the knife; 
the arrival of the riders at the last moment; these are the 
factors, so well used in Orphans of the Storm, so familiar 
to audiences throughout the world. Griffith improved the 
tension created by parallel action by addition of the close- 
up. He interspaced the alternate motives with a close-up 
of the hooves of galloping horses; the keen edge of the 
blade; the girl's neck bared; the excitement on the faces 
in the crowd; tears in the eyes of Miss Gish — and so on. 
Perhaps Griffith's cleverest use of the close-up was in the 
trial scene of Intolerance, an instance of subordination of 
the general to emphasis of the particular. The woman was 
hearing the sentence of death passed on her husband, whom 
she knew was innocent of the crime. On her face a 
subdued, anxious smile was half-hidden by tears. This was 
shown in close-up. Suddenly, a flash was seen of her hands 
gripped together in anxiety. Not once was her whole figure 
shown to the audience, but her emotions were rendered 
doubly dramatic by individual close-ups of her face and 
hands. 

Griffith was at one time an actor and play-writer. He 
apparently wrote a film manuscript of Sardou's La Tosca, 
had it rejected, but was engaged as an actor to play in a 
one-reeler, Rescued from an Eagle's Nest. Against his 
own will, he started directing, being induced to make The 
Adventures of Dolly in 1908, which was followed shortly 
by The Lonely Villa, The Avenging Conscience, The 
Sheriff's Baby, and many others. His real work, however, 
was not until 1914, when The Birth of a Nation was pro- 
duced as an answer to Italy's ' super ' film Quo Vadisf of 
1912. It was decided that The Birth of a Nation was to 
be the world's greatest film, in twelve reels, with many 
thousands of extras. In the customary manner of Griffith, 
a theme on a large scale was selected, based on the result 
of the enfranchisement of the negro, with added high-spot 
interest in the war of the North and the South and the Ku 
Klux Klan vendettas. Financially, the picture was a 

150 



THE AMERICAN FILM 

success, although much was said at the time about it being 
anti-Negro propaganda. Nevertheless, propaganda or not, 
all America, and later the rest of the world, went to see it, 
and if it achieved nothing else, it certainly placed the cinema 
as an entertainment and as a provocator of argument on 
the same level as the theatre and the novel. 

The Birth of a Nation relied entirely on the cinema for 
its success, for it carried no well-known names as a box- 
office attraction. It stood alone as a film : and as a film it 
was triumphant. The chief faults to be found with the 
construction were in the slow, meaningless opening; the 
realistic replicas of Abraham Lincoln's study and the 
theatre in which he was assassinated; and the badly- 
handled, insufferably dull battle scenes. 1 Nevertheless, the 
importance of the film lay in its achievement of attracting 
the notice of serious-minded people to the expressive power 
of the cinema. 

For his next picture Griffith again chose an immense 
theme, so vast that the film became unwieldy and de- 
pressing, and thereby defeated its own purpose. He sought 
to convey the idea that intolerance pervades the minds of 
all peoples, from past to present, dragging with it despair, 
murder, and ruin. The immensity of the idea (which would 
be turned down with scorn by any scenario department of 
to-day) was Griffith's undoing, for he was forced by the 
limits of time alone to treat the theme generally. 
Intolerance did not set out to tell a narrative; instead, it 
utilised four separate historical incidents, divided by cen- 
turies of time, to express one central theme. It has been 
said that Intolerance was the first attempt to use the film 
in its correct manner. The four incidents chosen by Griffith 
to illustrate his theme were : the fall of Babylon ; the 
intolerance of the world and the Pharisees towards Christ; 
the massacre of St. Bartholomew; and a modern story of 
capital and labour, set in an atmosphere of misunder- 
standing, vicious gambling dens and corrupt orphanages. 

1 1 do not find this to-day (1947) ; the handling of the battle scenes is 
one of the major virtues of the film. 

151 



THE ACTUAL 

These four separate stories were connected by a link, 
supplied by Walt Whitman's lines ' out of the cradle end- 
lessly rocking ', which manifested itself in the form of 
Lillian Gish aimlessly rocking a cradle, appearing at 
regular intervals throughout the course of the film. The 
four stories were developed slowly, gradually working up 
into a Griffith crescendo, with quadruple action in the 
climactic ending, rounded off by a touch of symbolism. 
The Persians approached Babylon; Christ was crucified; 
the Huguenots were butchered; but the young man in the 
modern story was saved by a miraculous ' last-minute- 
rescue '. 

Intolerance was, and still is, the greatest spectacular film. 
Its ingredients, the sumptuous feast of Belshazzar, the wild 
attack on the massive walls of Babylon, the scene at Gol- 
gotha, the struggling hordes of extras and the vast sets, 
have been at the back of every American producer's mind 
ever since. They are the urge and comfort of Mr. De Mille. 
They are indirectly responsible for the many imitations — 
The Ten Commandments, Noah's Ark, and the Hungarian 
Sodom and Gomorrah, all of which failed because they 
lacked the fierce intensity of purpose and skill of Griffith. 
Intolerance had the makings of a great film, but failed 
because of its own immensity. A film, even in twelve reels, 
cannot embrace the width and depth of a theme such as 
Intolerance sought to carry, without the elimination of 
detail. Under these circumstances the theme at once 
becomes superficial. The theme carried no power because 
of its general treatment. At the time of production, 
Intolerance had the reputation of being the most expensive 
film ever produced; the high reputation of Griffith from 
The Birth of a Nation; an air of mystery, for it was made 
under a veil of secrecy ; but it was a failure because of its 
own intolerance. The American people were puzzled by its 
name, by its meaning, and by its hugeness. They took a 
dislike to it. 1 

1 In retrospect this is perhaps an underestimate of Intolerance. Seen 
again in recent years, the film stands up well, especially its fine editing. 

152 



INTOLERANCE, directed by D. W. Griffith. [American, 1916] 




ORPHANS OF THE STORM, directed by D. W. Griffith. [American, 1922] 






i 



BROKEN BLOSSOMS, directed by D. W. Griffith. Donald Crisp, Lillian Gish. 
[American, 191 9] 




WAY DOWN EAST, directed by D. W. Griffith. Lillian Gish. [American, 1920] 



THE AMERICAN FILM 

Of Griffith's later films there is not a great deal to be 
written. It is well-known that he did not live up to the 
promise of his first two achievements, that he brooded in 
the darkness, and tried to repeat his successes in a different 
guise. Broken Blossoms, inspired by a short story by 
Thomas Burke, is of interest because it was the forerunner 
of the sordid, dilapidated slum theme that has been present 
in the cinema ever since Griffith suggested it. The film 
succeeded for only one reason; it had no other asset to 
carry its weight across to the audience save the direction. 
Lillian Gish, despite her earlier playing, was not yet con- 
sidered in the ranks of stardom; Richard Barthelmess was 
unknown; and the story was simple, tragic, and sordid, 
with no call for the spectacle of Griffith's earlier work. 
Yet Broken Blossoms, with all its morbidness, was a success. 
As a film it achieved great emotional power, due entirely 
to the strong direction. It created many things, the most 
significant being the establishment of Lillian Gish as a 
tear-stained slum girl, which she has been on and off ever 
since; it founded the school of dirt and depression among 
dirty plates and unswept rooms ; and it influenced Stroheim 
in the making of Greed. Moreover, it showed producers 
that a simple, human story, without the box-office attrac- 
tions of silk legs and spectacle, could be made successful if 
handled by an intelligent director. Broken Blossoms relied 
on the cinema for its success. 

Orphans of the Storm, with its setting in the popular 
French Revolution, was another new undertaking for 
Griffith. It was romantic costume film technique as distinct 
from the reconstruction of the ancient world of Intolerance. 
Financially, the orphans were peculiarly pleasing, especially 
when it is remembered that costume films are usually con- 
sidered to be failures even before they are made. They 
secured over a hundred thousand pounds in this country 
alone, being advertised as based on Carlyle's French 
Revolution. Actually, it was Hollywood's French Revolu- 
tion, with little of the real Griffith, save in the construction 
of the * last-minute-rescue ' at the guillotine. But Griffith 

153 



THE ACTUAL 

was beginning to repeat himself. He seemed forced to go 
back over his ground and it became tiring to watch the 
rescue of Miss Gish, however strong Griffith's sympathies 
for her may have been. One Exciting Night, a thriller that 
excelled in thrills but nothing else; America, Isn't Life 
Wonderful?, and Sally of the Sawdust Ring were all 
reiterations of early Griffith methods. Isn't Life Won- 
derful?, an essay on the food shortage problem in post-war 
Germany, was meant to express an idea. But when he 
made this film, Griffith appeared not to have appreciated 
the progressive movements in the whole cinema around him. 
Later, he was forced to climb down from his fence of 
independence, join the Famous-Players-Lasky Company, 
and under their supervision made Sally of the Sawdust, a 
crude, sentimental picture of circus life which was finan- 
cially successful. Since then he has continued to make a 
series of uninteresting pictures of unequal merit, among 
them being Drums of Love, The Sorrows of Satan, The 
Battle of the Sexes (notable for the playing of the talented 
Phyllis Haver and Jean Hersholt), and The Lady of the 
Pavements, with the vivacious Lupe Velez. He is now 
engaged on a dialogue version of Abraham Lincoln. 

In general, the work of Griffith is notable for the expres- 
sion of one central idea, a single theme carrying the film 
through from start to finish. This unity of purpose has 
been lacking in his recent films. Round this idea he con- 
structs his scenario action and his characters, placing them 
in their natural surroundings, and finds players suitable for 
their sincere characterisation. It will be observed that once 
Griffith has moulded an actor or an actress into the desired 
shape, he seldom continues to use that player. Having 
employed them with great success for the expression of one 
or two of his films, he gives them to the smaller directors, 
by whom they are made into stars. As far as possible, 
Griffith works with raw material, and in this respect he 
resembles the Soviets. Lillian Gish is admittedly an excep- 
tion to this theory, but she is perhaps the prototype of the 
Griffith heroine. Griffith nearly always creates his parts on 

154 



THE AMERICAN FILM 

the same characteristics. In particular the tear-stained, 
sobbing young woman, with or without child, smiling behind 
the misery with a wistful smile is recalled. Griffith's 
important work may lie in the past, in the early days of the 
spectacle film when theories on continuity and rhythmic 
construction were young, but he is a power in the American 
cinema that must be stressed. There is much to be learnt 
to-day from his early ideas, and his influence on the more 
eminent of Hollywood directors is marked. Both King 
Vidor and Erich von Stroheim learnt their early cinema 
from Griffith. Although his ideas are sentimental, his 
technique elementary, and his construction of the old type, 
it is upon them that much of the best of modern film treat- 
ment is built. 

On turning to the work of Erich von Stroheim, a barrier 
is at once found to the true appreciation of his artistry by 
the fact that he has gained for himself (chiefly on account 
of his masterly bluffing of the American producers and by 
his display of meaningless magnificence) the status of a 
genius. It will frequently be found that when argument is 
broached about a Stroheim film, this powerful word is 
solemnly pronounced and further analysis, if any has been 
made at all, is impossible. I suggest, however, that just as 
Stroheim has bluffed Hollywood with such admirable neat- 
ness, it is equally possible for him to have deceived the 
intelligence of his ardent admirers among the jeane 
cineastes. It is not denied that Stroheim has made one 
exceptionally interesting and powerful film, Greed, but 
on the other hand it is asserted that his filmic knowledge is 
inadequate. He seems incapable of recognising the limits 
and de-limits of the cinema. The fact that Greed, in its 
original form, was twenty reels in length, and that two 
hundred thousand feet of film were shot when making The 
Wedding March, indicates neither the mind of a genius nor 
a great film director, as so many of his admirers seem to 
believe. On the contrary, his obvious incapability to 
express his ideas adequately in ten thousand feet of film 
shows clearly his lack of understanding of the resources of 

155 



THE ACTUAL 

the medium. Added to which, Stroheim has unfortunately 
earned for himself the reputation of gross extravagance, 
and so great is the faith of Hollywood in vastness on any 
scale that, if Stroheim ceased to squander money on his 
productions, he would no longer be called a genius. 1 Whilst 
fully appreciating the fact that a director must have free- 
dom in order to express his ideas, it cannot but be admitted 
that if he has to take nearly twenty times the amount of 
film actually used in the final copy, he has no idea of what 
he wants or how he is going to achieve his desired result, 
the two elementary qualifications of a director. Stroheim's 
greatest faults are his love of excess and his failure to 
express his mind filmically. He labours his points and 
repeats his arguments to the limits of boredom, losing 
thereby any subtlety or meaning that they might convey. 
Typical of this was the painful gold colouring in Greed, 
which very nearly wrecked the film, and the superfluous 
cherry blossom in The Wedding March. Both these 
attempts at atmospheric emphasis lost their effect by their 
redundancy. Instead of becoming suggestive, they became 
irritating. 

Stroheim's best work is to be seen in small pieces. There 
are many sequences in his films that stand out alone for 
their extreme beauty and sympathetic feeling. This in itself 
suggests the lack of unity and central purpose of the 
Stroheim film. Frequently it is declared that he is ham- 
pered in his realisation by lack of money, but in considera- 
tion of the extraordinary licence allowed him in the past, 
this argument for his failure is hardly convincing. If 
Stroheim is the filmic genius he is said to be, then he will 
express his purpose under the limited conditions of film- 
making. 

Admittedly, this awkward predicament of having to 
spend money in order to keep up appearances is regrettable, 
but Stroheim has no one to blame save himself. If it were 

Mt has been said subsequently, on good authority, that much of the 
extravagance credited to Stroheim was pure publicity build-up by his 
producers. Vide: World Film News. Vol. 2, No. 6. September, 
1937. 

156 



THE AMERICAN FILM 

possible to see Stroheim in small, separate sequences, it 
would then be correct to call him a superbly talented 
experimentalist. One of the most beautiful sequences 
realised in the history of the cinema was the short hospital 
scene in The Wedding March, exquisite alike in feeling, 
acting, simplicity, and lighting. Photographically, it was 
magnificent, the range of tones shimmering from deep 
velvety blacks to dazzling gauzed whites with perfect 
gradation. But the fact remains that if Stroheim suddenly 
dropped his pose, became serious, ceased his expensive 
blurring campaign, and made a film of normal length, with 
a normal amount of money and in a normal space of time, 
producers would believe that they had been cheated out of 
their money, and the film would be regarded as a joke, 
whilst probably it would be a masterpiece. 

It is said that Erich von Stroheim has led a stormy life 
in Hollywood trying to combat commercialism with artistic 
temperament. Perhaps it would be more truthful to say 
that Stroheim has commercialised his artistic temperament. 
No producing centre in the world save Hollywood would 
have accepted Stroheim's whimsical fancies. His ideas are 
always made to look as if they are conceived on a great 
scale, calling for vast financial resources, and naturally, 
when he carries them out, strict executive eyes are watchful 
of his movements. But Stroheim, carried away by his 
' genius ', enlarges and extends his ideas as he puts them 
into realisation, far beyond original specification. As is 
only to be expected, trouble ensues between the two parties. 
It is remarkable that, despite Stroheim's failings, producing 
companies still continue to place their faith and money in 
him. The case of The M erry-Go-Round is almost too well- 
known to be cited. Report has it that Stroheim spent so 
long in showing a squad of soldiers how to salute in the 
Stroheim manner that the producers finally grew tired of 
the game, ejected Stroheim and put in Rupert Julian to 
finish the picture. 

Stroheim was at one time an officer in the army of Franz 
Josef of Austria. Later, he came to New York to 

157 



THE ACTUAL 

live alternately as gardener, ostler, dish-washer, etc., all of 
which are excellent occupations for a potential film director, 
for they breed an understanding of reality. He arrived in 
Hollywood about the beginning of the war, found work as 
an extra, and played the Pharisee in Griffith's Intolerance. 
His first achievement, however, did not come until after 
the war, when he directed and acted in Blind Husbands. 
Stroheim's acting as the superior, smart, salacious Austrian 
officer on holiday, with just sufficient power to seduce any 
woman he happened to meet, was outstanding for its truth. 
The film had a good reception, and he proceeded to make 
Foolish Wives in the same way. Once more he acted and 
directed, adding touches to the lascivious Austrian officer, 
and proved himself capable of progress. Foolish Wives 
will always remain an extraordinary film. It was subtly 
sexual and provocative. Old-fashioned in technique when 
seen by modern eyes, it nevertheless still retains much of 
its force and dramatic power. Following this came the 
disastrous affair of The M erry -Go-Round, with Norman 
Kerry and Mary Philbin, which was left unfinished by him. 
Soon afterwards, Metro-Goldwyn gave him the production 
of Greed, adapted from Frank Norris's novel McTeague, 
and Stroheim made the film on which his reputation stands 
to-day. Why and how Metro-Goldwyn came to give 
Stroheim the opportunity to make this picture still remains 
a mystery, for the theme of Greed was the last possible form 
of box-office appeal for Metro-Goldwyn, always a firm of 
showmanship, to be interested in. 

Stroheim set out to show the loathsome results of a 
human being's passion for money; how it affected the 
woman whose passion it was ; and how it reacted on the per- 
sons with whom she came into contact. The action was 
woven around a wedding and a double murder, with death 
in a torrid desert by thirst and exposure. Greed was the 
essence of sordidness, the depth of depression and the horror 
of distorted human nature. But it was sheer, undiluted 
truth ; the essence of reality expressed in the powerful terms 
of the cinema. Not one ray of light, of warmth, of cheer 

158 



THE AMERICAN FILM 

disturbed its meandering length. It was the concentrated 
dreariness of life. From its opening among the tree-clad 
hills which surrounded the gold mine, through the depths 
of the dark squalor of middle-class life, to the murder of 
the wife and the final sequence in the valley of death, it was 
disturbing. The public that saw it loathed it, yet were 
fascinated. Americans frankly disliked it; its moral that 
money is worthless either roused their consciences uncom- 
fortably, or was passed over unseen. They could not believe 
that someone had made a film about a man who murdered 
his wife because she had hoarded money. It was too near 
to life, too damning in its truth, too frank in its rightness. 
Stroheim's days as a dish-washer had shown him too much. 
In Greed, more than in any other film, Stroheim 
strengthened his theme by insistence on detail and by the 
consciousness of inanimate objects. Stroheim knew the 
value of the camera's faculty for the selection of the 
particular. He used it as it had never been used before in 
the establishment of psychological atmosphere. The dingy 
wallpaper, the automatic piano, the dirty dishes, the unmade 
bed, the unemptied wash-basin, the brass bedstead, the 
soiled handkerchief, all these details, insignificant in them- 
selves, were used to build up an effect of squalor. It was 
from Greed that Sternberg acquired his talent for using 
sordid material. There is also an affinity in the use of 
detail between Stroheim and Pabst. Both directors are 
aware of the consciousness of the inanimate. Both use 
objects rather than persons to create atmosphere. It is 
possible to see The Joyless Street (1925) and Greed (1923) 
on the same level. The opening scene of Jeanne Ney, most 
of The Salvation Hunters, and portions of The Docks of 
New York have distinct relationship with the bedroom of 
McTeague in Greed. The final sequence in the desert, with 
the sense of space, the blazing sun, the cracked sand, the 
shot mule, stands alone as a superb rendering of environ- 
ment. Greed was Victorian, but it was cinema. Despite 
its faults, the gold coloration, the too sudden development 
of the wife's character, the ridiculous make-up of Gibson 

159 



THE ACTUAL 

Gowland, this was Stroheim's greatest picture. It is 
interesting to note that Stroheim's explanation for the 
length of Greed, said variously to have been anything from 
twenty to a hundred reels in its original version, was that 
he used no more film than was absolutely necessary for the 
filmic expression of the theme. This is an evasive statement 
typical of Stroheim, to which there is no answer. Never- 
theless, the copy generally shown, about ten thousand feet 
in length, left much to be desired in editing. The film fell 
evenly into two halves. It is assumed that the transition 
period after the wedding was eliminated, an unfortunate 
act that took weight from the otherwise brilliant per- 
formance of Zasu Pitts as the hoarding wife. Her acting, 
under the control of Stroheim, had seldom been equalled by 
any other American screen actress 

The next Stroheim picture was a reaction from the reality 
of Greed. It was a movie version of a popular musical 
comedy in the Ruritanian manner, complete with princesses 
and monocled lieutenants, flashing sabres and pink roses. 
The Merry Widow was as much a story-movie as Greed 
was a thematic film. Occasionally, amid the welter of 
crown princes and chorus girls, a stagey duel and a corona- 
tion in the true Hollywood manner (colour), there came a 
flash of Stroheim technique, a sparkle of wit akin to the 
Forbidden Paradise of Ernst Lubitsch. To his credit, 
Stroheim at least made the synthetic Mae Murray do some- 
thing else than mince, and he handled John Gilbert as he 
has not been handled since. But despite this, the picture 
was nothing more than a typical Metro-Goldwyn adaptation 
of a musical comedy, with tuneful music and Parisian 
humour. Because it had been successful in the theatre, the 
producers calculated that The Merry Widow would be a 
successful, money-making movie. But why give it to Erich 
von Stroheim, the maker of Greed, to produce? 

Stroheim pursued his luxurious way, passed into the 
hands of Paramount and began The Wedding March in 
June 1926. He finished the picture in the late spring of 
1927. He spent over twelve months in trying to edit his 

160 







l.V/v'f 



» . 



Jh-' 



|fl| ■ 4 



— ~ < * 



FOOLISH WIVES, directed by Erich von Stroheim. [American, 1922] 




GREED, directed by Erich von Stroheim. Zasu Pitts. [American, 1923-24] 



THE AMERICAN FILM 

vast mass of footage into some unified whole, calmly sug- 
gesting to Paramount that he should make two films out of 
it, until finally they lost their temper, and gave the bins of 
celluloid to someone else to edit. The successor, however, 
did no better than Stroheim, and the assembling was turned 
over to yet another professional cutter, who succeeded in 
condensing the original matter into about ten reels. Even- 
tually, it was shown in Britain early in 1929, three years 
after it had been begun, and, as was only to be expected, 
was disjointed, erratic, and uneven in quality. Von 
Stroheim, of course, wished it to be clearly known that he 
entirely disclaimed the version shown to the public and 
washed his hands of the whole matter. Without prejudice, 
he had mainly himself to blame. In the copy presented to the 
public, The Wedding March was lacking in unity, uncertain 
in treatment, and crudely interspaced with cheaply written 
titles, but, for the student of the cinema, it contained some 
beautiful passages. The setting was Vienna; with a back- 
ground of falling cherry blossom ; sentimental beer gardens 
that were out of joint with some topical-news shots of the 
city at the beginning; a scandal-mongering and poverty- 
stricken court; and a coloured procession with a lifelike 
replica of old Franz Josef. It was burdened with little 
story-interest, being concerned chiefly with the tragic love 
of a prince for a poor but charming girl, and the fatal 
circumstances that compelled the former to do the will of 
his parents and marry according to his status. It was 
pathetic, appealing, and wistful; sentimental, charming, 
and Victorian. One recalls it now by a few isolated 
sequences. Prince Nicki's first meeting with the girl, when 
he is on parade and is unable to speak to her ; the hospital 
sequence which has been mentioned (see page 157); the 
delightful interplay between Stroheim and Maude George, 
as his mother; and Zasu Pitts's exquisite playing of the 
lame princess, the compulsory wife of the unwilling Prince 
Nicki. Notable, also, was the use of heavily-gauzed photo- 
graphy for the love scenes, in contrast with the sharp, clear- 
cut camerawork of the butcher's scenes. Although the 

161 II 



THE ACTUAL 

public version stopped short with the unhappy marriage of 
the prince and princess, to the grief of the poor but 
charming girl, the original conception continued the theme 
to a hunting trip in the mountains and the death of the 
limping princess. From an examination of the still-photo- 
graphs of the latter, unshown part of the picture, it seems of 
greater interest than the first. Although it is improbable 
that the second half of The Wedding March will ever be 
seen, there is perhaps a possibility of its being shown as a 
curiosity at some future private film society performance? 

After his retirement from Paramount, Stroheim started 
the direction of Gloria Swanson in Queen Kelly, in which 
Miss Swanson played the part of a prostitute. The 
film was apparently finished and in the cutting stage 
when dialogue made its unseemly intrusion. It was 
deemed unwise to attempt the synchronisation of the 
picture owing to its unsuitability as a talking vehicle for 
Miss Swanson. Instead, she went under the direction of 
Edmund Goulding in The Trespasser, while Stroheim went 
into The Great Gabbo, under James Cruze. Of this latter 
film I find it hard to write, for so cluttered up was it with 
singing, dancing, talking, backstage, musical comedy stuff, 
that Stroheim was given no chance with his part. Added 
to which, he was obliged to wear bad uniforms and was 
overpowered by the worst coloured sequences I have 
ever seen. 

Stroheim as a director has given much to the cinema in 
an indirect and obscure manner. Stroheim as an actor is 
always a source of interest. Stroheim as a ' cinematic 
genius ' is not to be suffered. 

Charles Chaplin's greatest asset is his deep understanding 
of human nature; an understanding that has not been 
reached without contact with the low, depressing, morbid 
side of life; a contact with the under-privileged, the poor 
and the hungry. Chaplin, like Stroheim, Pudovkin, Eisen- 
stein and other good directors, bases his sense of reality on 
his years of poverty and insignificance. Without the cir- 
cumstances of his days of struggle, Chaplin would never 

162 



THE AMERICAN FILM 

have reached the heights to which he has attained. The 
financial profits of his pictures have meant little to him, 
except that they were a proof of the success of his message 
to the world, and that they have prevented him recently 
from the necessity of working for a firm other than his own. 
No man has made Chaplin what he is to-day save Chaplin 
himself. He believes in two things : himself and the 
cinema. 

For his own films, Chaplin claims nothing but that they 
have amused and lightened the hearts of millions. If he 
hears that they are badly shown, with harsh musical 
accompaniment, he is irritated because the carelessness of 
others is destroying his purpose. For this reason, he 
welcomes the mechanically-synchronised musical score. 
There are moralists who say that Chaplin should be happy 
because he gives happiness and joy to others. But Chaplin, 
I believe, is an unhappy, disconsolate, and lonely man. He 
is constantly overwhelmed and saddened by the immensity 
of life. As an artist, Chaplin lives apart from the rest of 
humanity. What artist, who ever fulfilled the expression 
of his thoughts, was ever happy? For to realise them he 
has had to suffer, to experience bitter loneliness, and to 
endure the aching pain of loveliness. He has, too, to live 
in unrest. With Chaplin, I suspect, it is all this, for it is 
to be seen in his films. An artist such as Chaplin can live 
only, and have interest alone, in the work upon which he is 
engaged at the moment. This work demands intense con- 
centration, as indeed does that of any real film director. 
When Chaplin is conceiving and producing a film, it is 
disastrous for him to have any thoughts but those related 
to that film in his mind. 

Chaplin conceives every gesture, every scene, and every 
sequence of his films from every possible point of view. He 
possesses a tremendous power of visualisation, and a valu- 
able knowledge of the psychological effect of the visual 
image. He was one of the first directors to realise the 
camera's capability for recording detail and movement. 
The language of Chaplin, like that of acrobats and clowns, 

16.3 



THE ACTUAL 

is international, for it is visual in gesture and universal in 
theme. The idea behind every Chaplin film is easily under- 
stood by every one, according to their powers of receptivity. 
Chaplin realises that the camera records physical movement 
far more closely than the eyes of a music-hall audience. 
Miming before a camera lens is very different from 
gesturing before an audience. The projected image on the 
screen enlarges and enhances the smallest of movements. 
Like other great directors, Chaplin makes supreme use of 
camera emphasis. Little movements mean big things in a 
Chaplin film, and, moreover, his invention of detail is 
amazing. Three memorable instances occur to the mind. 
The unforgettable dance of the rolls in The Gold Rush; the 
inimitable crooked finger suggestive of the maggot in the 
apple in The Circus; and the magnificent pantomime scene 
of the David and Goliath sermon in The Pilgrim. These 
three incidents show with immeasurable force the mar- 
vellous sense of filmic detail possessed by Chaplin. He is a 
genius in the art of suggestion and inference. 

In any other medium but the film his genius would be 
negligible. There is nothing in a Chaplin film which has 
not been put there for a purpose, and the effect of which 
has not been calculated. He pre-conceives the psychological 
effect on an audience of every small strip of film. For this 
reason his work is never littered with lavish display. It is 
his faculty for discovering expressive detail, as distinct from 
his individual personality, which renders Chaplin the 
supreme artist. The Circus alone showed how, by his 
unique inventiveness of mind, he transmuted the traditional 
methods of fun into real uproarious humour under the eyes 
of the traditionalists themselves. This was in the rehearsal 
episode — the William Tell act and the Barber's Shop 
business. Chaplin has never excelled the brilliance of this 
scene. 

Chaplin has reduced misfortune, trepidation, disillusion, 
and suffering to emotions of laughter. His adventures are 
against the hard-hearted, the oppressors and the selfish, for 
he knows the smug complacency, the hypocrisy, and the 

16+ 



THE AMERICAN FILM 

injustice of this world. He is continually fleeing from the 
angry arm of the law, which wants him for some misunder- 
stood or unconscious offence. Blows, insults, and abuse are 
heaped upon him, and yet the audience roars at his dis- 
comfort. Deprived of all that he holds dear, companion- 
ship, food, happiness, Chaplin remains a figure of fun to 
the masses. To others, perhaps more sensitive, he is 
pathetic, for in some way he is themselves, their lives and 
their emotions. The Circus was one of the greatest 
tragedies in the history of the film and yet it was magnifi- 
cently funny. With his alert, sensitive, illimitable resource- 
fulness, his well-meaning, misunderstood kindliness, 
Chaplin stands unique in the cinema. It is the resolution of 
the man which secures the affections of the public to him. 
There is no comparable effect to the feelings roused by the 
closing sequence of a Chaplin film; that final defiant 
gesture of every picture when, buoyed up by eternal faith 
and hope, Chaplin fades into the distance, into, as it were, 
the opening of his next film. There is a definite link between 
all of the Chaplin comedies. When he is seen afresh, after 
a lapse of time, he appears to have just come round the 
corner from his last film, to mingle with another crowd of 
idlers. Although his productions are now separated by 
years, there is still that link, a continuity of idea between 
one film and the next. Despite this, Chaplin is not a type ; 
he is not an actor; he is an individual searching for a 
satisfaction which he may never discover. For this reason 
alone, if dialogue is introduced into a Chaplin film; if there 
is the slightest concession to the public taste created by the 
producers, by the Warners, the Laskys, the Zukors, the 
Foxes; then the Chaplin film as it is known, universally 
appreciated and adored, will cease to be. 

Each of Chaplin's pictures is a theme woven around one 
character. He is naturally aware of his remarkable 
individuality, for it will have been noticed that as the years 
have advanced, he has been gradually eliminating the 
caricaturish element from his pictures. With his own 
development, the characters with which he peoples his 

165 



THE ACTUAL 

stones have become more reasonable and more real, until, 
in The Circus, they were quite natural. It is interesting to 
compare the supporting cast in the latter film with that of 
Shoulder Arms. The flowing false moustaches, the big 
noses, the fat stomachs, the ridicule, the slapstick are 
gone. Actually, it will be remembered that Chaplin began 
as. a ' funny man ', evolved through these knockabout 
comedies a distinct personality, and eventually epitomised 
not only the down-trodden under-dog, but the disappoint- 
ment and discouragement of the whole world. It is of 
point, for a moment, to recall Chaplin of The Kid's Auto 
Races, The Immigrant, Sunny side, The Kid, The Gold 
Rush, and finally, The Circus, tracing the development of 
the leading lady and cast as well as of Chaplin himself. 

By way of example, the treatment of Merna Kennedy in 
the last-named film was evidence of Chaplin's interest in 
feminine personality; a facet of his character which was 
largely responsible for the subtlety of A Woman of Paris. 

As is now w'ell-known, Chaplin was originally engaged 
for film work by Adam Kessel, who happened to see the 
young comedian when he was touring far from his London 
home in a pantomine-revue affair called A Night in a 
London Club. Kessel signed Chaplin for a year's work at 
Los Angeles, beginning in November of 1913, the pictures 
being made under the direction of the inimitable Mack 
Sennett. These comedies are usually known as the Key- 
stone period, that being the name of the producing firm. 
Their character was pure slapstick with the customary 
ingredients — throwing of custard pies, falling down, hitting 
of people on the head and being hit back. In nearly all 
these early one- or two-reelers, Chaplin was not the pre- 
eminent member of the cast, with the exception of the 
second, the already mentioned Kid's Auto Races (1914), 
wherein he merely became funny by continuous repetition 
of the same motive. The film was without story and 
scenario, and is of interest merely because it represents 
Chaplin's appearance in the sphere which he was to make 
so peculiarly his own. Of this period, also, is The Fatal 

166 



THE AMERICAN FILM 

Mallet, in which Chaplin and Mack Sennett alternately hit 
one another on the head in their rivalry to embrace Mabel 
Normand, who disconcertedly sat aside until Chaplin struck 
her in the rear with the toe of his boot. A year later, 
Chaplin supported Marie Dressier, at that time a well- 
known stage actress, in Tillie's Punctured Romance, 
together with Mack Swain, Mabel Normand, and Chester 
Conklin. This comedy was made in six reels, a hitherto 
unprecedented length, and took fourteen weeks to prepare 
as compared with the customary one week for a single reeler. 
Preceding this was The Face on the Bar Room Floor, one 
of the two attempts at burlesque by Chaplin, with Edna 
Purviance and Chester Conklin. From these crudities, 
Chaplin continued into the Essanay period and a series of 
comedies in the true slapstick manner followed, such as 
Champion Charlie, Charlie the Perfect Lady (in which he 
played without a moustache, again with Edna Purviance 
and Chester Conklin), Charlie at the Bank, Carmen, 
Shanghaied, Charlie at the Show, etc. 1 Many of these 
contained the dream element, being his fond imaginings 
whilst dozing over his work, and in them all he was 
beginning to assert the individuality of the later pictures. 
So successful were these from a financial point of view 
that, in 1916, Chaplin signed a contract with the Mutual 
Film Corporation, for whom he made many films, including 
Easy Street, The Floorwalker, the one-man effort One 
A.M., The Fireman, The Rink f The Pawnshop, The Cure, 
and many others, in most of which he was supported by 
Edna Purviance. Later, he made the famous Million Dollar 
Chaplins for the First National Company, including 
Sunnyside, A Dog's Life, Shoulder Arms, The Kid, A 
Day's Pleasure, Pay Day, The Idle Class, and The Pilgrim, 
the last two of which prepared the way for the Chaplin of 
to-day. Though conceived in terms of travesty, they were 
all excellent in their construction and their unification of 
Chaplin's personality. Not, however, until the United 

1 In some cases, thsse are the British release titles. 

167 



THE ACTUAL 

Artists' productions of The Gold Rush and The Circus, of 
1925 and 1927 respectively, was there to be found the true 
realisation of the artist. Both these films were superb 
examples of cinema; their composition and continuity was 
flawless; their exposition of the genius of Chaplin un- 
rivalled. Recollection of them makes it necessary to re- 
state Chaplin's rare faculty of exact timing. Like the 
Soviets, he is aware, to the nearness of a frame, of the 
precise length for which a shot should be held on the screen. 
Although his filmic knowledge may not express itself in the 
same technique as the Soviet school, nevertheless it is unique 
in American film production. 

Quite apart from his contribution to the cinema as a self- 
directed actor, it is of importance to recall Chaplin's single 
essay in the serious direction of others. Just in the same 
way as The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari, Greed, and Battle- 
ship Potemkin are landmarks in the development of the 
film, so A Woman of Paris was the founder of a type of 
film-movie that has flourished in Hollywood since its 
production in 1923. Chaplin wrote the scenario and 
directed the picture himself, and, as with the later comedies, 
it was well-balanced in tension and actional sequence, the 
continuity flowing with an admirable smoothness. He 
chose a simple, natural theme of a boy's love for a girl; a 
misunderstanding; the development of their separate lives, 
the girl as an intelligent demi-mondaine, the boy as a 
temperamental creative artist; their re-meeting and the 
boy's resultant suicide at the discovery of his lover's way 
of living. The actual story-interest was of little value; it 
was the thoughts and mental reactions of the characters 
that gave rise to the action which were of interest. But 
what mattered most was Chaplin's treatment. He not only 
introduced the audience to a cultured prostitute and an 
exquisite roue in a drawing-room setting of flowers and 
gilt furniture, but he dug deep down into motives so that 
beneath their superficial actions could be discerned the quick 
workings of their minds. By subtle direction he laid bare 
the reasons of their petty quarrels, their jealousies and 

168 




■ifl'L'V 



"4^ 




A WOMAN OF PARIS, directed by Charles Chaplin. Adolphe Menjou, 
Edna Purviance. [American, 1923] 




THE GOLD RUSH, directed by Charles Chaplin. Georgia Hale, Charlie Chaplin. 
[American, 1925] 






*!%"¥¥ 



*.*«.^ :. :•■ 



ROBIN HOOD, directed by Allan Dwan. Douglas Fairbanks. [American, 1923] 




The BLACK PIRATE, directed by Albert Parker. Douglas Fairbanks, Billie Dove. 
[American, 1926] 



THE AMERICAN FILM 

contrary complexes. He attacked both man and woman- 
hood in this unforgettable film. He showed an under- 
standing of the machinery of human mentality that hitherto 
had been merely suspected from his own comedies. He was 
reminiscent, if the comparison may be allowed, of the wit 
and skill of Wilde. The joy of watching A Woman of 
Paris unfold its length was only equalled by that of Bed 
and Sofa. With both films the spectator experienced an 
inward sense of irresistible delight due, I believe, largely 
to the design and balance of the continuity. This is not, of 
course, to suggest for a moment that Chaplin and Room 
have any similarity, save in an understanding of the 
principles of continuity. 

A Woman of Paris marked the first appearance of 
Adolphe Menjou in the suave, cynical, elegant, slightly 
humorous man-about-town role which he has so often 
repeated under inferior direction. The original part, under 
the genius of Chaplin, was inimitable in its fascinating, 
attractive, inscrutable, gentlemanly behaviour. Only on two 
other occasions has the svelte Menjou been so clever — in a 
modification of the Chaplin part in Lubitsch's The Marriage 
Circle and Forbidden Paradise. With all respect to the 
artistry of Lubitsch, his handling of Menjou lacked the 
knowledge of human nature possessed by Chaplin. With 
an estimable sense of gratitude and recognition for her long 
support, Chaplin gave the leading role in this brilliant satire 
to Edna Purviance. He himself appeared anonymously 
for a brief moment in the guise of a French railway 
porter. 

Significant in Chaplin's direction was the use of the 
close-up for emphasis of detail. He was able on several 
occasions to suggest the atmosphere of a scene by the visual 
image of a single character. No one will forget the im- 
movable face of the masseuse during the beauty treatment 
of Miss Purviance, her mechanical procedure with her job 
whilst the girl friends called in to chatter. Chaplin here 
was treading on the ground of Eisenstein, but, it will be 
recalled, was treading unconsciously. The brilliance of this 

169 



THE ACTUAL 

film is remembered by its small incidents. The delight- 
ful episode of the rope of pearls; the miniature saxophone 
(an instance of Chaplin's inventiveness); the box of 
chocolates; the pocket handkerchief; a napkin full of holes; 
these were the memorable details of this amazing film. 
Mention is also to be made of the great scene of the demi- 
mondaine at the bed of the dead artist ; the breaking to the 
mother of the news of her son's suicide; the boy seated 
alone on his bed, distraught, with a flood of white light on 
the bedclothes dazzling out of the blackness of the room. 
These are episodes unforgettable for their dramatic 
treatment. 

A Woman of Paris inspired Lubitsch's The Marriage 
Circle, and, following in its wake, a hundred other movies 
from the hands of the young men of Hollywood. As is 
generally the case, the imitations lacked the sparkle, the 
wit, and the intelligence of the master film. 

Both Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford are to be 
regarded with the warmest admiration, for they are good 
forces in the cinema. In the first place, neither of them is 
an artist; nor, in the second place, can either of them be 
said to have any real idea of the values of acting. Yet they 
have both, in their own way, climbed from obscurity to the 
heights of universal popularity. Through years of hard 
work, they have become stars; but, paradoxically enough, 
it is not fitting to call either of them products of the star- 
system. 1 Neither Douglas Fairbanks nor his wife have 
become what they are now by aid of their respective pro- 
ducing companies. Like Chaplin, they have made 
themselves. 

It is to the credit of Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pick- 
ford that they are fully conscious of their limitations and 
capabilities in the expression afforded by the film. Fair- 
banks, one feels, realises only too well that he is neither an 
artist nor an actor in the accepted understanding of the 
terms. He is, on the contrary (and of this he is fully 
aware), a pure product of the medium of the cinema in 

1 Douglas Fairbanks died December, 1939. 

170 



THE AMERICAN FILM 

which he seeks self-expression. But knowing his own limits 
and those of Hollywood, he will surround himself with 
persons who make claim to artistry. He will bring from 
France Maurice Leloir, a specialist in historical costume, to 
supervise in Hollywood the designs for The Man in the 
Iron Mask. He knew well, in this case, that no American 
designer had either the knowledge or taste to reconstruct 
with any faith the costumes of seventeenth-century France. 
In the same way, Fairbanks saw the German films Destiny, 
Waxworks, Sumurun, and Siegfried, and realised their 
value as examples of fantasy then unknown in America. He 
determined to learn from continental intelligence. The 
Thief of Bagdad was a poor film, badly designed and con- 
ceived with false artistry, but nevertheless it is impossible 
not to appreciate the motive that underlay its production. 
Fairbanks made a definite attempt in this film to do some- 
thing better, to step out of the Hollywood groove. He is 
to be admired for his courage, for there were few others in 
California willing to try the chance. The Thief of Bagdad 
was not a financial success ; it was not a good production ; 
but its presence lies to the credit of Fairbanks. Curiously 
enough it is in this wish to encourage the ' art ' of the 
cinema that Fairbanks strikes the wrong note. His most 
recent films have not had the rough power, the intensity or 
the vigour which made his earlier pictures such good 
examples of cinema. Of late years there has been too much 
of the ulterior motive, too much lavishness and too little 
Fairbanks. Disregarding the obvious advance in technique 
due to mechanical progress, The Mark of Zorro was a very 
much better example of the filmic abilities of Fairbanks 
than either The Gancho or The Man in the Iron 
Mask. 

It may seem ridiculous to claim that Fairbanks, an acro- 
bat who is unable to put drama into his gestures or emotion 
into his expressions, is one of the outstanding figures in the 
world of the cinema. Yet, by reason of his rhythm, his 
graceful motion and perpetual movement of acting material, 
Fairbanks is essentially filmic. He has, it is true, no other 

171 



THE ACTUAL 

talent than his rhythm and his ever-present sense of panto- 
mime, except perhaps his superior idea of showmanship. It 
is certain that he sees in every situation of the past and of 
the present a foundation for rhythmical movement. Just 
as Chaplin learned to walk a tight-rope for the making of 
The Circus, so Fairbanks has learnt to fence, to crack a 
whip, to throw a lariat. 

At first glance these gestures may be explained by the 
Fairbanks enthusiasm, but they are to be attributed to more 
important reasons than the sheer love of doing things right. 
He saw in those accomplishments some basis for filmic 
movement other than mere acrobatics. He realised that the 
actions were superbly graceful in their natural perfection, 
as indeed are any gestures born out of utility. He delights 
equally in the swing of a cloak, the fall of the ostrich 
feather in his hat, the mounting of his horse, the hang of 
his sword, the slender form of his doublet. One remembers 
the prologue to that early film A Modern Musketeer, a 
small gem that could be shown by itself. In all his costume 
pictures Fairbanks took the utmost pleasure in the 
romanticism that the clothes of the period offered to him. 
In The Black Pirate, The Three Musketeers, and Robin 
Hood, he made every possible play with the details of the 
period. He delighted in D'Artagnan's duels, in the Earl of 
Huntingdon's tournament, in the Spanish Main romanticism 
of the pirates. The Petruchio of The Taming of the Shrew, 
jackboot on head and apple-core in hand, was a symbol of 
the romance of Fairbanks. It needed a great man to carry 
off that costume with grandeur. I can think of no other 
personality in the cinema who could have so displayed the 
courage of his convictions. In the same way that Chaplin 
is the centralised character of his work, so is Fairbanks the 
sole raison d'etre of his pictures. Despite Mary Pickford, 
he dominated The Taming of the Shrew. Although none 
of his films has been nominally directed by him, he is never- 
theless the underlying mind behind every detail, however 
small. The spirit of Fairbanks is at the base of every 
factor in his productions; behind every movement, the 

172 



THE AMERICAN FILM 

design of the sets, the choice of the cast, the lay-out of the 
continuity, the construction of escapes and situations, the 
making of the costumes, the technical perfection of the 
camerawork, the drama of the lighting. The mind of the 
man governs the architecture of the whole. 

I have complained that this personality of Fairbanks, this 
love of complete supervision, has recently superseded his 
actual playing. This ' art ' complex has ousted the Fair- 
banks of youth and energy. Not for one moment is the 
control of the man regretted, nor is his love of detail to be 
discouraged, but nevertheless, I believe that this feeling for 
magnificence has dwarfed the roughness of the original 
Fairbanks spirit. The bandit of The Gancho was tame in 
comparison with the cowboy of Heading South. There is 
no question that, in his last three films, the production has 
been in advance of the actual screen work of Fairbanks. 
The individual motion, the defiant gesture and the swinging 
stride have been belittled by the splendour of the environ- 
ment. There has been a tendency towards top-heaviness. 
There has been too much Fairbanks the producer and too 
little Fairbanks the acrobat. In the concentration upon his 
love of costume, of romantic sets, he has limited the actions 
of his own playing. He has failed to justify the heroism of 
his own existence. In order to appreciate the full meaning 
of Fairbanks, it is necessary to return to his earlier work, 
where his own movement and grace ran through every foot 
of the film. One recalls The Mark of Zorro, the latter part 
of Robin Hood, portions of The Three Musketeers, and 
particularly The Lamb, The Matrimaniac, A Modern 
Musketeer, The Knickerbocker-Buckaroo, Arizona, and 
Heading South. It is true that after The Thief of Bagdad 
he made an attempt to return to the real Fairbanks in Don 
Q, but the old spirit was absent. 

In all the early Fairbanks films his overwhelming per- 
sonality dominated the pretensions of a story and the 
elaboration of spectacle. The film sufficed in that it was 
always the exuberance of Fairbanks that held the audience. 
The stories were always composed around the same familiar 

173 



THE ACTUAL 

structure, the inevitable hero, heroine and villain. They 
were located in different countries in order to retain the 
freshness of atmosphere, through which moved the ever- 
restless figure of Fairbanks; the essence of enthusiasm, 
good spirits, adventure, disreputableness, chivalry, and 
courtesy. The one aim used to be good-heartedness, to be 
attained by effortless energy. One recalls in this respect, 
the Artcraft series : Reaching for the Moon, He Comes Up 
Smiling, Down to Earth, and, later, Mr. Fix It. These 
moral uplift films were quite distinct from the adventure 
themes, the open-air romanticism of The Lamb, The Man 
From Painted Post and Arizona, which culminated, after 
the first World War, in The Mark of Zorro. Briefly, it is 
perceived that Fairbanks has come from the moral uplift, 
Say, Young Fellow type of film, through the cowboy and 
the bandit to the costume romanticism of Robin Hood, 
and the other personal productions on a large scale. With 
the exception of Don Q and parts of Robin Hood, he has 
now cloaked the full meaning of his vigour under the 
mantle of his own desire for magnificence. 

It is obvious that the movements peculiar to Fairbanks 
could not possibly be conveyed by any other medium but the 
film. Fairbanks could not be theatre or literature. All the 
attributes of the cinema go to help the movement that enve- 
lops his productions. The properties of the camera, its 
device of slow-motion, add grace to his sweeping curves of 
action. I find it curious in this respect that Fairbanks, who 
is usually said to keep well abreast with current film produc- 
tion, has not shown more interest in the mobility of the 
camera. There was, it is true, a long travelling shot in the 
opening of The Taming of the Shrew, and another at the 
end, but these were purely atmospheric and not in any way 
attached to Fairbanks himself. It is possible, perhaps, to 
visualise the rhythm of Fairbanks being followed by the 
smoothly swinging path of Fritz Arno Wagner's camera, 
as one remembers the latter's work in Jeanne Ney. In such 
a way could the Fairbanks motive be most powerfully 
expressed. 

174 



THE AMERICAN FILM 

Nevertheless, I earnestly hope that Fairbanks will make 
some return to his old outlook, when his movement stood 
for all that was good in the material cinema. The ' art ' 
and ' moral ' influence with which he has tried to imbue his 
big productions has not been acceptable, even though set 
in a background of William Cameron Menzies's structures. 
Not too easily can The Thief of Bagdad, with its chocolate 
box minarets and ludicrous winged monsters, be forgotten; 
the wasted situations of The Gancho still rankle; and The 
Man in the Iron Mask was a false conception of 
romanticism, despite the Leloir designs, with a prologue 
and epilogue that were among the tritest things seen on the 
screen. The Taming of the Shrew, for all its splendid 
entertainment and its exposition of Fairbanks, lacked the 
fire of the earlier films. Alone, The Black Pirate stood out 
as a brilliant film. Taken for what it was, a glorious 
collection of impossible situations in delightful settings, it 
was as good as anything that Fairbanks has ever done. It 
was rapid in pace, strong in feeling, and, above all, it was 
stimulating. With The Mark of Zorro, it is his best work. 

With the coming of the dialogue film, it became a com- 
mercial necessity for both Douglas Fairbanks and Mary 
Pickford to divert their talent along fresh channels. Miss 
Pickford went ahead of her husband and made Coquette, a 
film that raised much controversy, but Fairbanks hung back, 
contemplating presumably the needs of this new mechanical 
invention. For some time there had been suggestions that 
these two famous persons should appear in the same film, a 
dangerous and perhaps disastrous undertaking. But if ever 
a suitable occasion arose for their dual picture, then it was 
in this new species of cinema. Thus, the only way in which 
a proper appreciation of The Taming of the Shrew could 
be obtained was by regarding it from a business point of 
view. It was a superb piece of showmanship. The choice 
of a Shakespearean play was astute, for it meant that the 
dialogue was safe from criticism. True, people would com- 
plain at the prostitution of the play, but criticism could not 
be levelled at the lines themselves. That it was Shake- 

175 



THE ACTUAL 

speare's play mattered not one jot. It was a commentary 
upon husbands and wives ; it afforded a chance for spectacle ; 
it was in all ways an admirable vehicle for the two per- 
sonalities to be launched in a new manner. As a film, it 
was excellent entertainment, but it could not be considered 
as a proper cinematic exposition of the talent of either 
Douglas Fairbanks or his wife. 

Of Mary Pickford I find difficulty in writing, for there 
is a consciousness of vagueness, an indefinable emotion as 
to her precise degree of accomplishment. In vain she has 
been described as the Cinderella of the screen, with an air 
of innocence that touches deeply the chords of the strongest 
heart. She is said to be ' the sweet young girl that every 
man desires some day to have for himself \ This may well 
be, but Mary Pickford as a business woman, acutely aware 
of the selling power of her sweetness, is the more interesting 
personality. The breakaway from the stereotyped part has 
been difficult for Mary Pickford. She tried, it will be 
remembered, once before with Lubitsch's Rosita, but the 
public apparently preferred the Little Annie Roonies to the 
Spanish singing girl. Nevertheless, it was clear that she 
could not continue to play the child of fifteen, and Coquette 
was a perfectly justified appearance. In The Taming of 
the Shrew she was swept off her feet by the tempestuosity 
of her husband, which was after all precisely what the story 
demanded. One hankers inevitably after the Pickford of 
Human Sparrows and Daddy Long Legs, but the commands 
of time are to be obeyed. The future for Miss Pickford 
will be difficult. 

Both Mr. and Mrs. Douglas Fairbanks are extremely 
serious about this film business. They realise their 
responsibility. They are both of extreme importance to 
the cinema. With Chaplin, Stroheim, and, to a lesser 
extent, Griffith, they are the outstanding figures in the 
American cinema. It would be wise not to under-estimate 
the value of their work. They have separately and jointly 
given much that is good to the film. One feels also that 
they both have much left to give in the future, but it is 

176 











SPARROWS, directed by William Beaudine. Mary Pickford. [American, 1926] 




SALOME, directed by Charles Bryant. Alla Nazimova. [American, 1922] 



THE AMERICAN FILM 

dubious whether this will be by way of the dialogue film. 
Rather they will achieve even greater significance, perhaps, 
by a careful research of their past work and a study of the 
methods of the continental directors. 

* 

The importation of European talent into the studios of 
Hollywood has been already remarked upon, and it is 
important to observe the developments of the foreigners 
in their new surroundings and their indirect influence on 
the American film. The coming of Ernst Lubitsch 1 into the 
fold of Hollywood directors marked a definite era in the 
standard of the movie, and his artistry, together with that 
of his confreres, left a distinctive Germanic strain in the 
younger American school. It is to be remembered that 
despite apparent faults, the love of lavish display and the 
concession to salacious appeal, the American movies were 
at that time (1920 to 1923) popular throughout the world. 
They were being produced, moreover, with a high degree 
of technical accomplishment. Germany, on the other hand, 
had developed a type of film utterly different from the 
movie, a heavy, slow-moving, darkly-lit, studio film, 
bordering on the one side the psychological, and on the 
other, the fantastic. It has been seen that the Americans, 
instead of regarding this European child as a rival, took 
it as an ally, and the majority of the Germans, only too 
precariously placed in their own fluctuating industry, were 
not slow to accept the proffered contracts from Hollywood. 
The result of this fusion has been some extraordinary films, 
notable for their mixed tendencies. 

In Europe, Lubitsch had directed many films, most 
notable being Dabarry, Sumurun, The Flame, with 
Pola Negri, and Anne Boleyn with Emil Jannings, when 
he followed Miss Negri across to California. He was an 
extremely efficient director with a leaning towards spectacle, 
a subtle sense of wit peculiar to himself, and a definite 
feeling for the dramatic in the manner of Reinhardjt tradi- 
tion, Lubitsch in America developed into a curious un- 
1 Died in Hollywood, December, 1947. 

177 12 



THE ACTUAL 

known quantity, who combined flashes of dexterous 
artistry, imbued with cunning, with much rather dull and 
boyish sentimentality. He started his American period in 
a bad vein, being given Mary Pickford and George Walsh 
to direct in a Spanish film, Rosita, in which his Germanic 
mind was in opposition to the star value of Miss Pickford. 
He had no idea of Hollywood production methods, and 
became confused in his outlook. Save for a few scenes of 
pictorial beauty, the film was best forgotten. His next 
picture, however, was much more the true Lubitsch, for 
following in the path of Chaplin's A Woman of Paris, with 
a hint of the James Cruze domestic comedies, he made The 
Marriage Circle, a witty, superficial, amusing, intimate 
commentary on modern life in Vienna and Paris, as Holly- 
wood conceived them. Lubitsch contrived to continue 
where Chaplin had left off, leaving out the cynicism and 
inner meaning and concentrating on the lightness of the 
framework. With this frippery, Lubitsch set off all the 
young men in Hollywood in the same vein, making himself 
from time to time several other comedies of a similar 
nature, such as Three Women, Kiss Me Again, Lady 
Windermere's Fan (from the Wilde play) and So 
This Is Paris, all delightful, effervescent movies. In 
between these sweetmeats came Lubitsch's one really 
brilliant film, a satire on Hollywood so subtle and so crafty 
that to this day many Americans cannot perceive wherein 
lay its sting. In the first place, Forbidden Paradise was 
conceived by Famous-Players-Lasky as a rollicking Ruri- 
tanian melodrama, with good opportunities for spectacle 
and a reliable box-office appeal. Ernst Lubitsch, however, 
for once forgetting that he was being clever on an American 
salary, treated this farce, in a moment of inspiration, in 
such a manner that it satirised with a nicety of wit the 
entire American movie system. The scenario was adapted 
by that admirable scenarist, Hans Kraly, from a play called 
The Czarina, which dealt with the amorous intrigues of 
Catherine of Russia, but Lubitsch brought the thing up to 
date, putting it in a Ruritanian setting. The amorous 

178 



THE AMERICAN FILM 

moods of the queen, the fiery revolutionary disturbances 
suppressed by handy cheques, the delightful ins-and-outs of 
the court intrigues, were handled by Lubitsch with a per- 
fection of satire. The continuity was pleasingly smooth, 
and he employed deft touches in the use of the particular 
to reinforce the general that have seldom since appeared in 
his work. The Lubitsch of The Student Prince was a dull 
dog when compared with the witticisms of Forbidden 
Paradise. He chose for his players, Pola Negri, whose 
talents he knew well, and whose playing of the impassioned 
queen, exquisitely regal when in the presence of the court, 
and sexually alluring when alone with her favourite 
lieutenant, has never been surpassed in its kind; Adolphe 
Menjou. of Chaplin's schooling, magnificently subtle — his 
wide-hearted acceptance of the decorations that emblazoned 
the breast of the young lieutenant and the French ambassa- 
dor will not be forgotten; Rod la Rocque, the essence of 
dashing lieutenants, innocent, good-looking and slender ; and 
Pauline Starke, angelic as the virginal lady-in-waiting. 

He had built the vastest of palaces in which to house his 
regally passionate queen, with shining floors, massive 
columns, and great sweeps of drapery that seemed to hang 
from heaven. He had the roundest of full moons; the 
most luscious of roses; the blackest of velvet for the 
Negri's imperial dresses, with trains that swished across 
the mirrored floors; and an exquisite chorus of uniformed 
officers and bearded revolutionaries. Beyond being a com- 
mentary on the frailty of women (in particular of queens), 
on sly chancellors and gallant officers, Forbidden Paradise 
was a most satisfying exposure of the false glamour in 
which Hollywod lived. 

Of Lubitsch's other and more recent Americo-German 
work, there should be mentioned that extremely popular 
and successful film The Student Prince, and The Patriot, a 
return to the historical spectacle, in co-operation with his 
early actor Jannings. The first-named picture was cal- 
culated by Metro-Gold wyn-Mayer to be a really grand film, 
lavish in spectacle, superb and smooth in direction, splen- 

179 



THE ACTUAL 

didly photographed, with Norma Shearer, Ramon Novarro, 
and Jean Hersholt as the players. The Student Prince was 
typical of the Americanisation of Lubitsch. It was a 
meaningless, superficial exposition of sexual sentimentality, 
rendered acceptable to the public by a perfection of technical 
accomplishment that has rarely been equalled. (For this 
reason it was voted by the general public as ' the film of the 
year \) It was an example of the keeping up of appearances. 
In reality, tearing aside the veil of glamour, Lubitsch's 
famous subtlety had degenerated into a lot of men all taking 
off their hats at the same moment and the interplay of 
opening and shutting doors. Of old Heidelburg, where the 
action was set, the film told not a thing, for the atmosphere 
was that of the second-rate property rooms. As an instance 
of sheer undiluted picture-sense, The Student Prince was 
to be appreciated. As a film, in the development of 
Lubitsch's career, it was worthless. 

Like The Student Prince, Lubitsch's The Patriot was 
hailed as the worlds greatest film, with the world's greatest 
actor, made by the world's greatest director, with a cast of 
twenty thousand. It was none of these things, which were 
due to Paramount's highly imaginative publicity depart- 
ment. It was a ridiculous travesty of Russian history; a 
mauled version of Alfred Neumann's play; an absurd, 
melodramatic, bestial display of bad taste. It is, of course, 
well known that Jannings is a great actor in the theatrical 
manner, with much gesturing, mouthing, gibbering, and 
eye-rolling as his assets. That much is apparent from his 
early historical films, Danton, Anne Boleyn, and later, from 
Tartuffe and The Last Laugh. But the Paramount- Lubitsch- 
Jannings team was nothing if not ludicrous. Whereas, in 
his earlier German work, Jannings put sincerity, force, and 
meaning into his gestures, in his Hollywood period there 
was nothing but a bare framework. Jannings as the mad 
Paul the First succeeded in being ridiculous, unnecessarily 
lascivious, and, to an admirer of his better work, merely 
pitiful. It was sad to see good material put to such prosti- 
tution. Lewis Stone, on the other hand, always a quiet, 

180 



THE AMERICAN FILM 

restrained actor, played the difficult part of the treacherous 
Count Pahlen with dignity, reserve, and self-control, due 
not to Lubitsch or Paramount, but to his own personality. 
In short, The Patriot, despite its natural leanings towards 
cinema, was a mishandled, highly theatrical, over-acted, 
rather pathetic instance of Americo-German tendencies. It 
lacked not only unity, but sincerity, purpose, style, and 
dignity. Some persons, judging by the reception accorded 
the picture (it was showing in London during the fortnight 
when the Evening Standard was running a public competi- 
tion for postcard film criticism), mistook the capering of 
Jannings for these qualities. It was yet another example of 
the subordination of talent, possibly artistry, perhaps 
genius, to the demands of the box-office mind. 

Lubitsch is a director of interest, if only because he is 
always an unknown quantity. He makes such films as The 
Flame and Sumurun in Germany, Forbidden Paradise and 
The Marriage Circle in America, and completes the enigma 
by The Student Prince and The Patriot. For appreciation 
of his cinematic knowledge, it is necessary to untie the 
Hollywood wrappings and peer inside to discover the 
intelligence he once possessed. 1 

The undoing of F. W. Murnau has been much the same 
as that of Ernst Lubitsch, save that the process has been 
quicker and is manifest in a lesser number of films. 
Murnau, of Germany, is associated with The Last Laugh, 
Tartu ffe, Dr acuta, and Faust, films of value which showed 
their director to have a very sensitive knowledge of the 
resources of the cinema, summarised in particular in the 
much-discussed Last Laugh. Murnau went to Hollywood at 
the invitation of the Fox Film Corporation, who gave him 
carte blanche for his productions in their name. Mr. Fox 
was all out to buy ' art ' for his second-rate productions. 
He tried also to persuade Carl Mayer, the brilliant script- 
writer of many German silent films, including Caligari, 
The Last Laugh, Vanina and New Year's Eve, to go to 

1 An excellent analysis is Theodore Huff's Index to the Films of Ernst 
Lubitsch (Sight and Sound, 1947). 

181 



THE ACTUAL 

Hollywood to adapt Sudermann's Trip to Tilsit for 
Murnau to direct. Mayer accepted the Fox contract, but 
insisted on remaining in Europe to do the writing. Rochus 
Gliese, a famous German set-designer, however, accom- 
panied Murnau. Murnau, taking the bull by the horns, 
took full advantage of Mr. Fox's generous offer. He built 
a city. He employed Charles Roscher so that he could use 
his name, as a cameraman, and chose (or was it Mr. Fox's 
doing?) Janet Gaynor and George O'Brien as his players. 
Herr Murnau was all set to make Mr. Fox a big picture. 
Brer Rabbit ! 

I am at a loss to describe the groanings and rumblings of 
the machinery as the ' rhythm ' of Sunrise unfolded. First, 
it must be understood that Sunrise was ' a new conception 
of the function of the motion picture; a new outlook on 
the depth of human nature.' Secondly, ' When you see 
Sunrise, you will see what can be done with new, untried 
material, when controlled by the hands of an artist.' 
Thirdly, ' Sunrise has a new technique.' Although these 
announcements, issued with the severest gravity, were pro- 
bably due to Mr. Fox's new ' art ' film publicity department, 
they are significant of the price that Murnau had to pay 
for his Hollywood engagement. The theme of Sunrise 
was meant for intelligent people; it was very successful 
with housemaids and their boy friends. The picture itself 
was well done. The city looked really well. The technique 
was clever. Mr. Fox was perfectly sincere when he said 
that the picture was a masterpiece. It was. A masterpiece 
of bluff, insincerity, unsubstantial nonsense. To those who 
had read the lesson in the American work of Lubitsch, 
Sunrise was not a disappointment. A little foresight showed 
that Hollywod would dismember Murnau, just as she had 
Lubitsch, Seastrom, Buchowetski. Sunrise turned out to 
be exactly what had been expected. At the same time, 
many London film critics bleated restlessly over the 
' rhythm ' of the great picture. . . . 

Murnau's second picture for Fox was The Four Devils, a 
'story of the circus ring', which was (save for some moving 

182 



THE AMERICAN FILM 

camerawork) an uninteresting film. Sunrise was at least 
meritorious if only in a small way; but this second film, 
with its puling sentiment, its little boys and girls, its wicked 
men and sensual vamps, was Mr. Fox in his post-war days 
of white-haired mothers carrying baskets over the hill. 
The German director has made another film for Mr. Fox, 
but as yet it is in the future. In the meantime, I wait to 
hear of Herr Murnau's return to Berlin, where perhaps it 
will be possible for him to pick up the threads of cinema 
where he laid them down after The Last Laugh and Faust} 
Erich Pommer, whilst not strictly a film director, is 
nevertheless a producer, and the productions which have 
resulted from his control are all of considerable note. He 
left Germany after the making of Vaudeville, which was 
directed by E. A. Dupont, and supervised by Pommer. 
Exactly what the supervision of Erich Pommer amounts to 
is hard to ascertain with any degree of certainty, but the 
fact remains that there are directors, who, whilst working 
under him make excellent pictures, but are disappointing 
when alone. Dupont is a case in point. Vaudeville, from 
all standards, was a brilliant film and, on the strength of it, 
Dupont went to Hollywood to the Universal Company. 
There he made an unmentionable picture, Love Me and 
the World Is Mine. His later work in Britain Moulin 
Rouge, Piccadilly, and Atlantic, although of more merit 
than the Hollywood picture, still lacks the vitality and 
strength of the film supervised by Pommer. When Pommer 
reached Hollywood, on the other hand, he sat alone and 
demanded this and that ; supervised Mauritz Stiller making 
Hotel Imperial, and afterwards Barbed Wire; and returned 
to Berlin to control Hans Schwartz on Nina Petrovna and 
The Hungarian Rhapsody, and Joe May on Asphalt and 
Homecoming. It is evident, from a consideration of the 
above-mentioned films, that Erich Pommer's supervision 
accounts for a great deal. 2 

1 Murnau died in California, March, 1931, after having collaborated 
with Robert Flaherty in making Tabu in the South Seas. 

2 Pommer is now (1947) working in Germany, in the American Zone, 
to re-establish film production. 

183 



THE ACTUAL 

Hotel Imperial, although not a great film, was neverthe- 
less one of the best productions that have come from 
America. The story was of an Austro-Russian war type, 
set in a captured town on the Galician front in 1915, and 
Pola Negri and James Hall played spy parts with distinc- 
tion. It was opened with skill by the entrance of the 
Austrian officer into the captured town, an opening of 
deserted streets in the cold dreariness of dawn. Miss Negri 
was a servant girl in the hotel where the officer took refuge, 
and her playing in this first sequence was her best individual 
work in America. The whole of the first reel was superbly 
done, the empty streets, the deserted hotel, the girl about 
to begin her day's work, her hiding of the officer, his raving 
delirium. This was Pommer and Stiller using great skill. 
The remainder of the picture, especially the orgy scenes 
with George Siegmann as a drunken Russian general, were 
in the true Hollywood debauchery style which they manage 
to do so convincingly. 

Technically, the production was of interest, for it was 
one of the first to be made on the composite set method. 
An eye-witness description of the sets is given by Mr. 
L'Estrange Fawcett, and deserves repetition. 1 ' Some may 
remember the use made of travelling camera in Hotel 
Imperial. The stage accommodating the hotel was one of 
the largest in existence and eight rooms were built complete 
in every detail, four leading off each side of the lobby, 
which ran the length of the building. . . . Suspended above 
the set were rails along which the camera, mounted on a 
little carriage, moved at the director's will. Scenes (shots) 
could be taken of each room from above from every point of 
view. . . . There were two objects — first, to enable Erich 
Pommer to experiment with angle photography, repre- 
senting impressions of scenes taken from the point of view 
of a character watching the others. . . . Secondly, the 
story could be filmed in proper sequence. In Hotel Imperial 
an attempt was made to build up a cumulative dramatic 

1 Vide, Films: Facts and Forecasts, by L'Estrangie Fawcett (Bles, 
1927). 

184 



mm 

THE FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE, directed by Rex Ingram. 
Alice Terry, Rudolph Valentino. [American, 1920-21] 




FORBIDDEN PARADISE, directed by Ernst Lubitsch. Rod La Rocque, Pola Negri. 
[American, 1924] 




SUNRISE, directed by F. W. Murnau. George O'Brien. Janet Gaynor. 

[American, 1927] 




HOTEL IMPERIAL, directed by Mauritz Stiller. [American, 1926] 



THE AMERICAN FILM 

effect by following the characters swiftly from one room 
to another, by means of several cameras and rolling shots.' 
Pommer succeeded in giving to the film an air of intimacy 
that is lacking in most pictures. On this method, many 
films are made in German studios to-day, and the same 
idea was adopted by Edmund Goulding when making the 
dialogue version of The Trespasser, no fewer than fifteen 
cameras being used to pick up Miss Swanson at every 
different angle. To return to Hotel Imperial, it was to be 
ranked along with Forbidden Paradise as one of the best 
productions from the Paramount Company. Not only was 
it the come-back of Miss Negri, but it was the triumph of 
a star in a role that asked no sympathy. 

Mauritz Stiller continued, without the controlling hand 
of Erich Pommer, and made at a later date that most 
extraordinary of all movies, The Street of Sin. This was 
a picture from a scenario by von Sternberg, with Emil 
Jannings, Olga Baclanova, and Fay Wray. No expense 
was spared on its making. The script was well balanced; 
the continuity good; the setting natural. Yet, for some 
obscure reason, it was one of the dullest films yet made. 
Most curiously, it defied analysis. It was made just 
previous to Stiller' s death in 1928. 

Victor Seastrom, a Swedish director who travelled to 
Hollywood soon after the war, has a series of uneven films 
to his name, but, with the sole exception of The Scarlet 
Letter, has made little of the material given to him by his 
producers. Confessions of a Queen, Name the Man, and 
The Tower of Lies were dull pictures, and not until the 
woodland sequence of He Who Gets Slapped did any of the 
old Seastrom poetry of his early Swedish films come to the 
surface. This sequence of the two lovers in the sunlight, 
away from the circus ring in which most of the story took 
place, was the only redeeming incident in an otherwise un- 
interesting heartbreak affair of Lon Chaney. Seastrom's 
The Scarlet Letter, from the Nathaniel Hawthorne story, 
was of greater power but was unfortunately rendered 
farcical by the false morality of the producers. It was 

185 



THE ACTUAL 

remarkable, however, for the playing of Lillian Gish as 
Hester Prynne, a very different woman from Griffith's 
young lady, and for the appearance of Lars Hanson, at 
that time (1926) just come from Sweden. The theme of 
The Scarlet Letter was gloomy, but Seastrom raised its 
gloom to moments of great beauty. It was a film made in 
one key, for even the humorous relief of the stocks and the 
ducking-stool were fitted into the pattern of sorrow. 
Seastrom's sweeping sense of landscape, so evident in his 
early Swedish pictures, was expanded and gave an en- 
chanting atmosphere to the first love scenes between Miss 
Gish and Lars Hanson. A later picture by the same 
director, The Wind, was of less interest, but there was again 
evidence of his lyricism and poetry. This feeling for depth 
and space was common to all the Scandinavian directors in 
their pre-American work. It was found in Stiller's Arne^s 
Treasure, The Atonement of Gosta Berling, in Brunius's 
Charles XII, in Seastrom's Thy Soul Shall Bear Witness, 
in Love's Crucible, and in the work of Benjamin Christen- 
sen. With Seastrom, it manifests itself in his shots of 
landscape, his feeling for the presence of the elements, his 
love of wind, sky, and flowers. Perhaps it is in accord with 
the dusty desert of the American Westerns and the chim- 
neys and smoke of the Soviet workers' films. Perhaps it is 
due to the natural Swedish tendencies towards the beauty 
of nature and the rhythm of poetry. Seastrom took this 
reality of nature with him to the mechanised studios of 
Hollywood, and it blossomed even in that hot-house 
atmosphere. It was to be felt in The Tozver of Lies, in 
The Wind, in The Scarlet Letter, and in the short gem-like 
scene in He Who Gets Slapped. Nearly all the themes of 
Seastrom are connected with the struggle of human beings 
against the common mass of humanity. He is concerned 
with individual persons and their relationship to their 
environment. There was Hester Prynne set against the 
narrow-mindedness of the conventional people in The 
Scarlet Letter, and Miss Gish striving in The Wind. In 
the latter, the wind itself was an outer emphasis of the inner 

186 




THE TOWER OF LIES, directed by Victor Seastrom. [American, 1926] 




THE WIND, directed by Victor Seastrom. Lillian Gish, Lars Hanson. 
[American, 1928] 



THE AMERICAN FILM 

struggle; a sort of Griffith-like use of the elements. So 
also did the flowers and tree roots help the lovers in The 
Scarlet Letter. But Seastrom has ceased to develop. He 
remains stationary in his outlook, thinking in terms of his 
early Swedish imagery. He has recently made little use 
of the progress of the cinema itself. The Divine Woman, 
although it had the Greta Garbo of The Atonement of 
Gosta Berling, had none of the lyricism, the poetic imagery 
of the earlier film. It is true, however, that he rendered 
the Scandinavian less of a star and more of a woman than 
in any other of her American films. The lyricism of 
Seastrom, of the Swedish film itself, with its snow, its 
wind, its trees, and flowers, its depth and width of land- 
scape, cannot flourish in the American factory. 

Of other European directors who have had their fling in 
Hollywood, Dimitri Buchowetski has not been successful. 
In Germany he made several dramas of the historical 
costume type, with plenty of blood and thunder, such as 
Danton, Othello, and Peter the Great, with Emil Jannings. 
In America his pictures have been of little value, and 
number among them Men and The Crown of Lies, with 
Pola Negri; The Midnight Sun; The Swan; Graustark, 
with Norma Talmadge; and Valencia, with Mae Murray. 
Among others, Ludwig Berger, who directed the exquisite 
Cinderella in Germany, has made The Sins of the Fathers, 
with Jannings; Benjamin Christensen, The Devil's Circus 
and Sorcery; Alexander Korda, a Hungarian, A Modern 
Dubarry and The Private Life of Helen of Troy; Lothar 
Mendes has strung together The Four Feathers; and 
Michael Curtiz, having made the semi-spectacle picture The 
Moon of Israel in Europe, went to Hollywood and joined 
Warners to direct Noah's Ark. 

Quite recently, Jacques Feyder, the Belgian, who in 
Europe is associated with the brilliant realisation of Zola's 
Therese Raquin and the political satire Les Nouveaux 
Messieurs, made his first picture for Metro-Goldwyn- 
Mayer, The Kiss, in which he skilfully combined intelligent 
direction with the necessary proportion of picture-sense. 

187 



THE ACTUAL 

His treatment of Greta Garbo was more subtle than that 
usually accorded to this actress by American directors, but 
it did not bear comparison with his handling of Gina Manes 
in the Zola picture. But there was a freshness about The 
Kiss that raised it above the level of the ordinary movie 
and a use of camera angle which was reminiscent of 
Feyder's earlier work. One queried, however, why the 
film should have been set in France, when the atmosphere 
and types were so obviously American ? Why does a studio 
take the trouble to transport a French director to Holly- 
wood and then give him a picture with a French locale to 
direct? It seems odd. 



188 



THE AMERICAN FILM (concluded) 

There are certain American directors of lesser standing 
than Griffith, Erich von Stroheim, and Chaplin, whose 
work, if not altogether brilliant from a filmic point of view, 
is at least of more intelligence than that of the common 
run of movie directors. One assumes, also, from certain 
flashes of cinematic feeling in their films, that these 
directors would in all probability make fuller use of their 
abilities if they were not entangled in the structure of the 
studio system, and dominated by the drastic demands of 
the production committees for whom they work. The 
pictures of King Vidor, Josef von Sternberg, Rex 
Ingram, James Cruze, and Clarence Brown are, generally 
speaking, of more than passing interest. In much of their 
work there is an idea, an experiment, a sense of vision, a 
use of the camera, a striving after something that is cinema, 
which is worth detailed analysis for its aesthetic value. But 
we must remember that these men are employees of large 
manufacturing firms and have inevitably to incorporate in 
their films at least two-thirds of that picture-sense quality 
so dear to producers. In the remaining third, there may be 
found some expression of the director's real opinion of the 
film subject. 

King Vidor is probably the outstanding director of the 
young American school, and he has already shown remark- 
able versatility in the satirical, the mock-epic and the 
psychological film. His best known and most commercially 
successful work was the notorious Big Parade, although 
preferable from a filmic point of view were The Crowd, 
The Politic Flapper, and Hallelujah! The Crowd has been 
hailed in intelligentsia film circles as a great film. In Paris 
it is considered the greatest, if not the most successful, film 
to have come from Hollywood, although recently this belief 
has been overshadowed by the novelty of White Shadows, 

189 



THE ACTUAL 

Nevertheless, whatever lavish praise may now be accorded 
The Crowd, it was not by any means the film that it 
was said to be. It failed for several significant reasons. 
Primarily, it was a literary and not a cinematic expression 
of a theme, although the original conception was cinematic. 
Vidor's theme was vast in its breadth ; a man's ineffectual 
struggle against the hostile indifference of the masses; a 
young man's hopeless striving against the convention, the 
unsympathy and the brute selfishness of the everyday 
people who surrounded him. The film should have been 
the spirit and the humanity of the crowd. It was called 
The Crowd. Instead, it concentrated attention on the 
human interest of a single individual. As the film stood, it 
should in all senses of self-justification have been called 
The Man. The relation between the man and the crowd 
was ill-defined and slurred over. There was, afterwards, 
no clear-mindedness as to either the man or the crowd. At 
times there was a tendency to become interested in the 
individuals; the crowd became meaningless and un- 
interesting. All through the film there was a feeling of 
detail and no sense of the breadth of the conception. It was 
easily possible to pay attention to the small actions of James 
Murray and Eleanor Boardman, and hence to lose contact 
with the theme because of their mannerisms. The Crowd 
was not a unity. The interests were divided and subdivided 
instead of being bound together into a forceful, filmic 
whole, such as The Last Laugh. I have suggested that The 
Crowd was filmic in its original conception and literary in 
its treatment. It demanded the complete elimination of all 
sub-titles. It should have been treated from the same 
approach as Murnau's film, but from a mass and not from 
an individual outlook. Not one of the ironical titles 
infused into the film were of cinematic value. The script 
should have been conceived and written by King Vidor and 
not by a scenarist. Added to this, the opening sequence of 
the man's boyhood and the death of his father were pain- 
fully unnecessary ; the film should have opened on a broad 
scale with architecture. The psychology of the separate 

190 



THE AMERICAN FILM 

characters became twisted and inconsistent as the theme 
developed. The ending, for which presumably Vidor was 
not responsible, was beneath contempt. The treatment 
when considered apart from the theme (which is absurd) 
was good. It was Vidor's misfortune and lack of direction 
that the players were the film and not the theme. The 
Crowd was a sincere attempt on the part of Vidor to do 
something well ; it was a failure because of his misconcep- 
tion of the theme and the regrettable picture-sense of 
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. 

The question raised by The Big Parade was a big one, 
and it successfully occupied the British Press whilst Metro- 
Goldwyn's picture was playing to record audiences at the 
London Tivoli. Somehow or other, during the premier 
presentation of this film, a rumour arose that it was a big 
American publicity stunt. It was propaganda to the effect 
that it showed how America won the war. Whether this 
was so or not is no concern of these pages, but in any case 
the propaganda (if any) can hardly have been effective with 
any informed Briton. Like all war films manufactured in 
Hollywood, The Big Parade carried little of the real 
meaning of war. The film story had been written by 
Laurence Stallings, and the picture was given by Metro- 
Goldwyn-Mayer to King Vidor for direction. Apparently 
Vidor was not attracted to the idea, regarding it in the first 
place as ' just another war story \ The picture was made, 
and it seemed as if it would be an ordinary programme 
feature until, after it had been run through for a pre-view, 
Irving Thalberg, one of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer^ produc- 
tion heads, suddenly decided that it could be made into a 
great, stupendous, super film. It would be America's 
patriotic part in the Great War. It would put America on 
the map of Europe. Vidor, fired with this new impulse, re- 
made the complete film from start to finish from a new 
angle. The result was overwhelmingly successful. Despite 
the detail discrepancies and the weakness of the ending, 
there is no doubt that The Big Parade was a most remark- 
able picture. Its power lay in the opening sequences, where 

191 



THE ACTUAL 

an immense feeling that hundreds of thousands of people 
were being howled into war, none of them knowing its 
meaning, the women regarding it as a thing of romance, the 
young men as a chance for gallant heroism, was dramati- 
cally spread across to the spectator. King Vidor handled 
these scenes with a nobility not usually associated with the 
American cinema. But perhaps the most memorable part 
of the film was the departure of the men from their billets 
in the French village for the front line. The long line of 
rattling lorries, the convoy of aeroplanes overhead, the 
cobblestones giving way to the straggling forest, this was 
magnificently handled. I shall not attempt to decide whether 
The Big Parade epitomised war as it really was, or war as 
Hollywood and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer imagined it to be. 
It is like comparing the naturalism of Journey's End or 
The Case of Sergeant Grischa with the many novelettes 
written about brave officers and brutal Germans. From a 
purely personal point of view, however, the short sequence 
in Pudovkin's The End of St. Petersburg told far more 
vividly of the reality of the front line than all the eleven 
thousand feet of The Big Parade. The latter film, never- 
theless, succeeded in showing with sincerity the folly of the 
thing, if limited by an American standpoint. 

Vidor was seen in a happier, less problematical vein 
of mind in that brilliantly clever satire, The Politic Flapper, 
and later in another picture of the same type, Show People. 
In the former particularly, Marion Davies was given the 
opportunity to show her versatility and her vivacity, and 
for pure enjoyment both these slight pictures were high 
among the American output of recent years. Of Vidor's 
earlier efforts it is unnecessary to write at length, for they 
were merely the training ground for his later proficiency. 
Among his work there may be mentioned The Sky Pilot 
(1921); Peg o' My Heart (1922); His Hour (1924); The 
Wife of the Centaur (1925); La Boheme (1926); 
Bardelys the Magnificent and Proud Flesh. He has 
recently completed a dialogue and sound picture, Hallelujah! 
one of the many negro pictures to come from America. It 

192 




THE BIG PARADE, directed by King Vidor. John Gilbert, Renee Adoree. 
[American, 1925] 




THE CROWD, directed by King Vidor. James Murray, Eleanor Boardman. 
[American, 1927] 



THE AMERICAN FILM 

was a film of great lyrical beauty, filled with the spiritual 
feeling of the South, and may be ranked, with parts of 
The Crozvd, as being Vidor's best work. Although from a 
cinematic point of view the film was too divided into 
separate sequences with little conjoining continuity, there 
was no question that it carried with it a sincerity of faith 
characteristic of the coloured peoples. Most of the picture 
was taken on the Southern cotton plantations near Mem- 
phis, and all the minor players were chosen from the cotton 
workers. 

Josef von Sternberg rose rapidly to directorship by the 
making of The Salvation Hunters, a dreary film which 
Hollywood thought exceptionally intelligent. Sternberg 
succeeded in making this picture independently of the big 
producing concerns, no mean feat, and credit must be given 
on that account to his enterprise and courage. Chaplin is 
declared to have greeted The Salvation Hunters as a great 
film, a masterpiece of Human Realism; listened awhile at 
the following chorus of praise instigated by his grave 
announcement ; and then given out that he was only pulling 
their legs. Nevertheless, whether this was true or not, the 
picture was bought by United Artists. Its drab monotony 
of dock-life, its symbolic dredger, its squalid doorways, and 
its sudden, ineffectual ending are going down to posterity 
as a masterpiece. It is rather like the dustbins and garbage 
of Alberto Cavalcanti. In fact, it seems that if one can 
make a picture so dreary, so dull, and so depressing that it 
defeats criticism, then one will be hailed as a genius. The 
pseudo-success of The Salvation Hunters left an uncom- 
fortable mark on the work of Sternberg. His apparent 
desire to appear clever often hinders him from becoming 
so. Sternberg gives the unfortunate effect of always trying 
to be great. His films are always self-conscious. They are 
Sternberg films. 

Paramount-Famous-Players secured the services of this 
director, and for them he wrote some scenarios {The 
Street of Sin) and made some pictures. Amongst his 
clever qualities, Sternberg has acquired the necessary 

*93 ft 



THE ACTUAL 

faculty of picture-sense. Nearly all his pictures for Para- 
mount have been successful. The Last Command, The 
Docks of Neiv York, Thunderbolt, and Underworld were 
good films, but not one of them conveyed the filmic intelli- 
gence with which he is usually credited. Underzvorld was 
one of the best of the gangster pictures so popular a short 
time ago, before the same idea was adapted to the dialogue 
and sound film. It held the spectator by a slow development, 
gradually increasing to a tremendous climactic thrill, a sort 
of Sydney Street encounter with the police. Sternberg 
showed here a feeling for pictorial values, a definite interest 
in filmic suspense, but the continuity, especially the flash 
back sequence, was weak. The Last Command was 
probably the best of the Sternberg Paramount pictures, but, 
as has been written, was virtually a re-make of the earlier 
Jannings films of the late German period. 1 This film may 
be taken as another instance of the committee-made picture 
of the pre-dialogue era. It was a cleverly blended mixture 
of the elements of Hollywood picture-sense with a 
Germanic use of the camera. The story was dramatic and 
powerful, necessitating the use of crowds and the Para- 
mount property rooms. It was handled in a direct, 
polished manner, with a tragic ending, for Jannings must 
be tragic. The camera was used with a pleasant freedom, 
notably in the opening scenes in the studios. The setting 
had a double interest, for at that time ' Imperialist Russia ' 
(a la Hollywood) was in the vogue and the general public 
always likes to see the inside of film studios. The whole 
picture was turned out with the efficiency of a fifty-shilling 
tailor, an efficiency that the astute film observer has come 
to associate with the Paramount studios. 

Sternberg has some sense of the dramatic and he never 
fails to exploit this in a heavy way. He used Bancroft in 
the same way as Jannings, but with considerable more 
success. The Docks of New York was a distinguished film, 
although superficial in treatment and pseudo-filmic in char- 
acter. Taking shots through hanging iron chains did not 

1 Cf pp. 135, 141-143. 

194 



THE AMERICAN FILM 

establish the atmosphere of a place, although it may have 
created pretty pictorial compositions. Sternberg seems 
lodged in this gully of pictorial values. He has no control 
over his dramatic feelings (The Street of Sin) and very 
little idea of the filmic psychology of any scene that he 
shoots (The Docks of Neiv York), He has, however, some 
feeling for the use of women. His contrast of Betty 
Compson and Olga Baclanova in the latter film was good. 
Despite all his faults, Sternberg will perhaps one day make 
a really interesting film, if, that is, he forgets that it is a 
Sternberg picture. 

Rex Ingram as an outstanding film director is a matter 
of opinion. His work displays a certain feeling for 
theatrical cinema, a leaning towards the drama of indivi- 
duals, and a rather clever-minded flair for American 
showmanship. Just as Sternberg is too much the director 
of the Sternberg picture, Ingram saturates his films with 
' artistic ' pretensions. Occasionally, in isolated sequences, 
Ingram forgets his artistry and quite by chance directs a 
really moving scene. Of such a nature were the shooting 
•of Alice Terry as the spy, and the drawing of the submarine 
commander's character in Mare Nostrum. These two 
scenes were handled with a sympathy, a value of suspense 
remote from the Ingramish direction of The Three 
Passions and The Garden of Allah. The picture with 
which Ingram established his name and a long-term contract 
with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer was, of course, The Four 
Horsemen of I he Apocalypse. From a technical point of 
view, in consideration of its date (1921), The Four Horse- 
men was extremely accomplished. Ingram set out in this 
epic picture to make Valentino a hero, and the Germans 
the vilest brutes who killed for the sheer love of killing. 
He spared no effort in doing this, and successfully painted 
black white and white black, with no neutral tones to break 
the jar. Ingram showed the popular conception of war. 
The Four Horsemen arrived at a most opportune moment. 
It was exactly what the public wanted to see about the war. 
It was precisely what the Press had been writing about with 

195 



THE ACTUAL 

so much enthusiasm. Ingram was an opportunist; so also 
were Metro-Goldwyn ; the result was unprecedented in The 
Four Horsemen. Ingram did everything to make the 
picture popular. He raked up spiritual references from the 
Bible, and made his horsemen flit about in an eerie manner 
in the sky. He caused Valentino to slink around with a 
cigarette dangling from his lips, and established him as 
an international hero by letting him dance a tango with 
his natural grace. Above all, by doing these things with 
an eye to public appreciation, he established himself as a 
great director in the opinion of the public, of Hollywood, 
and of himself. From that time onwards it was simply a 
question of Rex Ingram productions. 

Some time after the world-wide reception of The Four 
Horsemen, he made The Prisoner of Zenda. He used 
Lewis Stone, Alice Terry, and Ramon Novarro for 
his acting material, and he creditably obtained the 
utmost out of them. The theme was sentimental, as 
are all Ruritanian themes, but sweetly so, with 
scope for gentle handling. To-day, perhaps, when held 
against modern achievements, The Prisoner of Zenda seems 
dull and old-fashioned. It was far from being so when 
first shown in this country. It is memorable now chiefly 
for the clever acting of young Ramon Novarro as the 
dashing Rupert. Novarro, before his days of stardom, was 
refreshing and stimulating. His playing in Zenda, against 
the reserved dignity of Lewis Stone, was beyond reproach. 
Rex Ingram's direction was capable, in a straightforward 
manner. His next outstanding success was an adaption 
of Sabatini's costume romance, Scaramouche, and this he 
also handled with competency. He remembered Griffith's 
Orphans of the Storm and outdid the French Revolution 
in its own bloodiness. This time he made Lewis Stone the 
villain, Novarro the smiling hero, and his wife again the 
heroine. As a costume melodrama, of no weight or pre- 
tensions to being anything but pleasant spectacle, Scara- 
mouche was with the best of its kind. It was lavish, 
crowded, brutal, charming, and amusing in turn. To-day, 

196 



THE AMERICAN FILM 

it is almost forgotten. Of Ingram's other American pro- 
ductions, none was outstanding, but for reference may be 
mentioned Hearts Are Trumps (1921); Trifling Women 
(1922); Where the Pavement Ends (1923) and The Arab, 
after which he transported himself and his wife across to 
the shores of the Mediterranean. Mare Nostrum, a melo- 
drama of espionage, with dastardly Germans and some 
good submarine shots, was uneven but of better technique 
than the Hollywood films. The Magician, with Paul 
Wegener, was a bad adaptation of Somerset Maugham's 
novel, and is memorable only for an operation scene which 
was handled in the best Ingram manner. The Garden of 
Allah, save for some beautiful panchromatic photography 
at the end of the picture, was drearily done in the true 
Ingram tradition of a story straightly told, with flashes of 
humour in the choice of crowd types. This curious mania 
for eccentric types is typical of Ingram. He seems to take 
delight in searching out the ugliest of mankind, making 
'them useful in a close-up. One recalls the man with the 
bomb in The Prisoner of Zenda; the revolutionaries in 
Scaramouche; the crowd in the bazaar in The Garden of 
Allah; the hunchback in The Magician. Later, The Three 
Passions was an effortless picture, distinguished only for 
Shayle Gardner's character study of a ship-builder. The 
film as a whole was one of the worst of Ingram's artistic 
attempts. Perhaps it is possible that this director will regain 
his old skill, but he will have to jolt himself out of a deep 
rut. Perhaps he, like Griffith, does not keep abreast with 
the current films of the world? Perhaps he, like so many 
other directors, has exhausted his knowledge of the film? 

Clarence Brown is another American director who has 
shown short flashes of cinema in between long stretches 
of picture-sense. Some time ago, in 1925, his clever 
handling of The Goose Woman and of Louise Dresser 
aroused some interest. During the first portion of this film, 
while Miss Dresser played the drink-sodden prima donna 
who had fallen beside the way, Clarence Brown's direction 
was remarkable. He made her live in the filthiest squalor 

197 



THE ACTUAL 

with gin bottles and geese, and at night she would hunch 
up her back over her precious book of press-cuttings, to read 
over the reports of her glorious days. So far the film was 
excellent, handled with sympathy, but the latter half was 
quite ridiculous, Miss Dresser, the direction and the film 
going to pieces. Among the many films credited to 
Clarence Brown were The Light in the Dark (1922); The 
Eagle, with Valentino at his best ; Smouldering Fires, with 
Pauline Frederick, in 1925; and The Trail of '98, a film 
that was meant to be an epic, but succeeded in being a first- 
class super film, without interest to the intelligent-minded. 
Flesh and the Devil, however, made in 1926, was a film of 
more than passing cleverness. It was, it is true, another 
example of the committee-produced picture, with John 
Gilbert, Lars Hanson and Greta Garbo as the star appeal, 
but it contained short sequences that strengthened Clarence 
Brown's claim as a director. The copy shown in this 
country was maltreated, either by the censor or by special 
British editing, but it sufficed to show that in its original 
version Flesh and the Devil had some pretensions to be 
called a good film. The theme was sheer, undiluted sex, 
and Brown used a series of close-ups to get this across with 
considerable effect. Notable also was his use of angles, 
different indeed from either the customary German or 
American method, and the happiness with which he settled 
the characters in their environment. 

The work of John Ford has been uneven, but there are to 
his credit two good films, The Iron Horse and Three Bad 
Men, made in 1924 and 1926 respectively. The former 
purported to tell the story of the laying of the first railroad 
across America in the teeth of the opposition of nature and 
the Indians. It was the type of film that America can 
make well if she sets her mind to it. It ranked on the same 
level with the epic quality of The Covered Wagon, and 
combined the best elements of the Western school with the 
more sophisticated direction of the Hollywood feature film. 
The Iron Horse was vast in its conception, and John Ford, 
despite the hindrances of a story-interest, handled it with 

198 



THE AMERICAN FILM 

a high degree of talent. It was not popuhir in this country, 
where audiences have no enthusiasm for railways being 
thrown across trackless wastes, but as a film it was fit to 
rank with any in the class of reconstructed fact. I remem- 
ber with feeling the long line of railwaymen's camps on the 
progressing track; the spirit and adventure of the pioneers; 
the clever rendering of the manoeuvres of the encircling 
Indians; and above all, the far-stretching landscape across 
which the steel track was to run. Ford's other film, Three 
Bad Men, was conceived in the same open-air spirit, dealing 
with the dramatic episodes of the gold-rush in 1877. In 
many remarkable scenes the incidents of this extraordinary 
event were brought out with reality. The dance hall, its 
oddly assorted patrons, the would-be-rich settlers, the 
pastor and his ruined chapel, were pieces in a pattern that 
Ford blended together with clever direction. The great 
moment of the picture was the astounding stampede, the 
mad, on-rushing race of the donkeys, mules, race-horses, 
and oxen, jogged forward by their lashing drivers towards 
the hidden gold. Through the whole film moved irresistible 
camaraderie, the likeable badness of the three disreputable 
companions, each of whom met their death by holding the 
real bad men at bay. The playing of Frank Campeau, Tom 
Santschi, and Farrell MacDonald was excellent. 

Henry King, I feel, is one of the most sincere of Ameri- 
can directors, whose work seldom receives the attention 
it deserves. He is to be numbered among those directors 
in Hollywood who, if they were allowed the chance, would 
make a film to compare with the product of any of the 
better European directors. All his productions contain 
points of definite interest, demanding a detailed examina- 
tion for which there is not the space in these pages. To his 
credit must first be placed what was at its date one of the 
finest films America had produced, Tollable David (1922), 
which was followed later by Stella Dallas, Romola, The 
White Sister, The Winning of Barbara Worth (a sophisti- 
cated Western), The Magic Flame, and the better parts of 
The Woman Disputed. In Tollable David, Henry King 

199 



THE ACTUAL 

expounded his theme with a delicate use of detail and a 
sympathetic employment of landscape for the emphasis of 
atmosphere. The material was distributed with a nicety of 
feeling rare in the American film; the continuity was 
balanced to perfection and flowed with admirable smooth- 
ness; and the characterisation, notably in the case of 
Richard Barthelmess in the name part, revealed a depth of 
character that has not been noticed in any later film by the 
same director. King learnt from Griffith all that was good, 
combining the spoil with his own filmic knowledge. The 
real value of Stella Dallas, a brilliant and deeply emotional 
film, was superficially destroyed in this country by the 
cheap and contemptible publicity that it received. It was 
diversely said to be ' the greatest mother-love picture ever 
made ', and that ' Mr. King had focalised in it all the 
creative artistry of his great career ', all of which was an 
attempt to put over Samuel Goldwyn's appreciation of the 
'art' of the cinema. It implied, on the contrary, not only 
the strangeness of Mr. Goldwyn's mind, but the negligible 
amount of appreciation he possessed for the work of his 
own directors. The story of Stella Dallas was not of unusual 
interest, but it gave scope for a consistent character develop- 
ment over a space of time, and lent itself to delicate touches 
of direction. Its lesson lay in the superb handling of acting 
material, notably in the cases of Belle Bennett and Lois 
Moran, and also in Jean Hersholt's masterly rendering of 
the coarse riding-master. \t was one of those rare films 
that rested on its treatment alone, a type of film not usually 
connected with America. Sympathy and delicacy are the 
two salient characteristics of Henry King's work, exempli- 
fied strongly in Tollable David and Stella Dallas. He is a 
misunderstood and mishandled director; a man of deep 
cinematic mindedness, who struggles in vain against the 
overpowering and crippling demands of picture-sense. 

* 
Notwithstanding the plethora of movies of the man, 
woman, and sin variety, with which one is generally 
accustomed to couple the label of Hollywood and which 

200 




SADIE THOMPSON, directed by Raoul Walsh. 
Lionel Barrymore. [American, 1928] 



Gloria Swanson, 









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STELLA DALLAS, directed by Henry King. Belle Bennett. [American, 1925] 




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TOL'ABLE DAVID, directed by Henry King. [American, 1921] 




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TUMBLEWEEDS, directed by King Baggott. William S. Hart. [American, 1925] 



THE AMERICAN FILM 

constitute the greater part of its output during film history, 
there are a few naturalistic films that should be considered 
apart from the fiction film. They are to be differentiated, 
also, from the work of the directors who have just been 
discussed, with the exception of John Ford and James 
Cruze, who happily combine a sense of this open-air school 
with their cine-fiction. 

In the first place there was the Western film, a form of 
cinema in which America excelled ; and secondly, the more 
recent arrival of the south-sea island picture. The Western 
was perhaps America's nearest approach to real cinema. It 
was perfectly natural. It was, practically speaking, the 
Americans being themselves. Distinct from the sexual in- 
terplay of the drawing-room movie, the Western had its 
birth in the early days of the one- and two-reelers, and rose 
to its zenith towards the end of the post-war period about 
1922 or 1923. Since then, it has degenerated into a more 
sophisticated form, as with The Winning of Barbara 
Worth and In Old Arizona. It has almost been displaced 
by the steel-girder and the office eye-shade, the dance frock 
and the dumb-bell, together with the products of America's 
dancing youth. There is, it is true, some indication of the 
revival of the Western in the dialogue cinema. Its natural 
scope for the use of synchronised sound, of horses' hoof- 
beats and of gun-shots, was the basis of Paramount's The 
Virginian, directed by Victor Fleming. 1 The use of Ameri- 
can natural landscape and types in this picture was highly 
creditable, and, despite the limitations imposed by dialogue, 
it was amongst the best (if not the best) pictures to come 
from Hollywood since the opening of the dialogue period. 
The Virginian, because of its wonderful open-air atmo- 
sphere, lifted Victor Fleming in my estimation out of the 
rut of second-rate directors, although credit must also be 
given to J. Roy Hunt for his superb exterior photography. 
During their day the Westerns were widely successful, for 
the cowboy spirit and dust of the desert are inborn in the 
true American of the old school. In its middle period of 
1 Died January, 1949. 

201 



THE ACTUAL, 

William S. Hart, the Farnum brothers, William and Dustin, 
William Russell, Tom Mix, and Hoot Gibson, the Western 
film had an air of sincerity in its open stretches of sand, 
its fleeting horses, its smell of sage and gunsmoke. Not 
that I suggest that Americans once behaved precisely as did 
these rustlers and gunmen, but there was nevertheless some 
element of fact in the idealised cowboy. The spirit of 
openness seemed to have come quite naturally to the 
Westerns, and was in itself eminently suited to the functions 
of the cinema. It will be recalled that the story-interest of 
these fast-moving pictures was usually negligible; all that 
mattered was the hard riding, the spreading horizon of the 
desert, the crumbled canon walls, the dusty hooves of cattle 
and mustangs, the heat and the cold, the rain and the wind. 
It was something the Americans understood. It was 
captured by the cinema with remarkable faith, very 
different from the studio reconstructions of ' Imperialist 
Russia ' and ' Medieval England \ 

From time to time the Western film was stripped of its 
fictional trappings and was raised to the standard of an 
epic. It lost its story and became a reconstructed record 
of some great past achievement. Two examples of this 
have been mentioned, John Ford's The Iron Horse and 
Three Bad Men, but the pinnacle was reached in Cruze's 
The Covered Wagon. This was a film that combined the 
essence of the Western with the cinematic knowledge of 
Hollywood; a film of the men and women who set their 
faces and their wagons to the west in the giant trek across 
the plains. The production of this film was all the more 
remarkable in that its makers were the Famous-Lasky 
Company. It was an odd link in their tradition. It was 
their first breakaway from the drawing-room movie, a step 
that has since been followed up by Old Ironsides {Sons of 
the Sea), also directed by Cruze, and the Chang and Four 
Feathers type of picture. It was a direct development from 
the crude Western, but approached in an epic spirit; a 
sincere attempt to reconstitute past fact. 

James Cruze, up to that time a maker of domestic 

202 



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THE COVERED WAGON, directed by James Gruze. [American, 1923] 







THE IRON HORSE, directed by John Ford. [American, 1924] 



THE AMERICAN FILM 

comedies and since then of pseudo-dramatic movies, must 
be commended for having accomplished his task with 
distinction. It was known at the time that he had some 
cinematic skill in direction, but his handling of space in The 
Covered Wagon was unsuspected. In the dream sequence 
of Jazz and in To the Ladies, Cruze was interesting. In 
The Covered Wagon he demanded serious consideration. 
He first learned his knowledge of the cinema in the early 
serials, a fact which is probably responsible for the open- 
air direction of this epic. Of his other pictures, all of 
which are worth notice, will be recalled : The City that 
Never Sleeps, The Pony Express, Hollywood, The Beggar 
on Horseback, Merton of the Movies, and The Goose 
Hangs High. His recent attempt at straight drama in The 
Great Gabbo was inferior to this earlier work, but some 
allowance is to be made for the superfluity of song-and- 
dance stuff, which was obviously added to ensure box-office 
appeal. It is hoped that Cruze will return to the space and 
truth of The Covered Wagon. He is a director who needs 
fresh air. He is misusing his intelligence in the factory. 1 

Of recent years, there have sprung up in Hollywood 
occasional but admirable attempts to use the natural 
resources of the American cinema. The Western has been 
partially replaced by the travel film which, although to a 
large extent experimental and only financed by the big 
companies if well-known stars are allowed to share the 
natural beauties, has the most prominent claim for the 
attention of the American industry to-day. These out- 
standing examples of the naturalistic use of the cinema are 
to be regarded as distinct from the advances made by 
Lubitsch, Chaplin, and Stroheim in the pure cine-fiction 
school. If they are not the direct development of the 
Western, then they are at any rate in relationship to it. 
They can be associated also with similar movements in 
Soviet Russia, Germany, and France. 

The first American step in this manner was made by 
Robert Flaherty, and was the result of a film financed by 

1 James Cruze died, Hollywood, August, 1942. 

203 



THE ACTUAL 

Revillon Freres, the Paris furriers, as an advertising 
venture. Nanook of the North, the Eskimo film, although 
not entirely honest in that it purported to be what it was not, 
marked the starting-point of the American documentary 
picture, without plot or story but simply the continuity of a 
theme. Actually Nanook, which set up to be a film of the 
Eskimaux in the far north, was made on a latitude level with 
Edinburgh. The same theory of thematic continuity was 
found in Flaherty's other film, the beautiful Moana. Each 
in their own way, Nanook and Moana were supreme ex- 
amples of the pure visual cinema. In form they were alike, 
opening with a quiet sequence that established the char- 
acters in their normal environment, emphasising only the 
swing of the bough of a tree, or the slope of the snow. 
With an unwinding thread of continuity each progressed 
without a litter of titles; the one telling of the warm, dark- 
skied south with its rich foliage and crystal water ; the 
other of the bitter cold and ice, with the wind sweeping 
across the snow fields. Both films ended on a note of rest. 
Moana with the betrothed pair swaying in their dance 
against the sinking sun; Nanook with the moaning wind 
and the howl of the sleigh dogs. Each film told of the 
immensity of living; the urge to live; the width and 
breadth of the world. Of the two Moana was perhaps 
the finer. It had a warmness, not physical but spiritual, 
in handling that was missing in the coldness of Nanook. 

In order to continue producing pictures, Flaherty next 
accepted a contract from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. It is said 
that he was to have had the making of White Shadows in 
the South Seas, but reasonably enough rejected the offer on 
account of the inclusion of a story and two stars. Instead, 
it was made by W. S. Van Dyke. To Flaherty must go the 
credit then, of inspiring the new movement in the American 
cinema that later gave rise to such films as Grass, Chang, 
Stark Love, White Gold, White Shadozvs, and Trader Horn. 

Van Dyke is of secondary importance to Robert Flaherty. 
White Shadows, good as it was in places, cannot be com- 
pared with the quality of Moana. If Flaherty had made the 

204 



THE AMERICAN FILM 

former, there is little doubt that he would have surpassed 
Moana. If it were possible to consider White Shadows 
apart from the nonsense of the acting interest, a badly- 
faked model of a shipwreck and a moral of white men 
ruining the sanctity of the islands, there remained some 
very beautiful landscape scenes. It is interesting to recall, 
moreover, that Van Dyke at one time was making Westerns, 
being responsible for a series of Buck Jones's pictures, 
The Desert's Price, Hearts and Spurs, and Ranger of the 
Big Pines. There would seem some reason, therefore, 
to place the credit for the best parts of White Shadows to 
the cameramen, leaving the blame for the story-handling 
to Van Dyke. It was significant, on the other hand, that 
Flaherty was currently kicking his heels at Metro-Goldwyn- 
Mayer's expense in Culver City, that suburb of Los Angeles. 
White Shadows, despite its cheapness of story, will remain 
memorable for its liquid sunlight, its gently swaying palms, 
its white clouded skies, its far-reaching stretches of hot 
sand and beach. The chief cameraman was Clyde de 
Vinna. It ranks with The General Line and Moana as 
being a perfect example of the beautiful decorative values 
of panchromatic photography. 

Following up the success of White Shadows, Van Dyke 
attempted to repeat himself with The Pagan, a film made 
ridiculous by the intrusion of a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer con- 
tract star. Mr. Ramon Novarro may be popular with nurse- 
maids when he is practically in the all-together, but he had 
definitely no place (singing on his back in the water) in this 
purely pictorial picture. Is it possible to imagine the 
Moana of Flaherty as played by Mr. Novarro? Van Dyke 
has recently been sent by his company to Africa, complete 
with studio equipment, including not only generators and 
lights, but sound-recording apparatus for obtaining the 
noises of the jungle. The film is based on the tales of 
Trader Aloysius Horn, and will again be made against 
natural settings. 1 

1 Vide, Celluloid: The Film To-day (Longmans Green, 1931), pp. 
196-211, for a full assessment of Trader Horn, 

205 



THE ACTUAL 

In this same group of natural resources directors must be 
included Schoedsack and Cooper, Howard and Karl Brown. 
Ernest B. Schoedsack and Merian C. Cooper first achieved 
recognition by their film Grass, which was made among the 
Baktyari tribe of North-VVest Persia, during 1925. The 
picture was a vivid record of the almost insurmountable 
difficulties that faced the tribe when they migrated twice 
yearly in their trek for grass. One watched with suspense 
the extraordinary manner in which this band of half a 
million men, women, and children surmounted the snow- 
covered mountain range, and forded the roaring torrent 
that barred their way. The film was a marvellous photo- 
graphic record, spoilt in this country by the insertion of 
irritating and fatuous titles, written by a Paramount writer 
called Richard P. Carver. After the success of Grass, 
the same pair went to the jungle country of Northern Siam, 
where they spent two years in taking records with the 
camera. Eventually Chang was capably mounted into a 
story form, and credit was due to the editors who worked 
up the theme to a highly emotional climax, which, as has 
been mentioned at a later stage, was rendered even more 
dramatic by the use of the magnascope. 1 Chang told the 
story of the family of Kru, a Lao tribesman, who built 
beyond the village in a clearing in the jungle, and of his 
struggle not only against the encroaching jungle but the 
beasts that lived there. Not one sequence of this admirable 
film dragged. Moreover, the spirit of the jungle was 
captured in such a manner that the audience seemed to live 
in it themselves. When the jungle awoke at the close of 
Kru's hard-working day, a wonderful feeling of stirring, 
of undergrowth moved by unseen forms, of branches 
swinging by other forces than those of the wind, spread into 
the spectators. Thus the film continued, until suddenly, as 
if by magic, the magnascope flooded the whole of one end 
of the cinema with the massed stampede of elephants. The 
emotional power of this climax was so strong, so over- 
whelming in its size and movement, that I have little 

*Cf. pp. 341,384, 385. 

206 



THE AMERICAN FILM 

hesitation in calling it one of the most brilliant ever devised. 
Akin to the case of Grass, the titles, written specially by 
Achmed Abdullah, the novelist, were inclined to be absurd. 
Satisfied with the phenomenal success accorded to Chang, 
Paramount sent Schoedsack and Cooper to the Sudan for 
the purpose of taking further camera records. But at this 
point, unfortunately, the producers remembered their 
picture-sense. Wishing to add to the success of Chang, 
which to all intents and purposes was a film of pure natural 
resources, Paramount decided to blend Schoedsack and 
Cooper's records in the Sudan with an adaptation of A. E. 
W. Mason's novel, The Four Feathers, adding for the sake 
of entertainment several stars and a pro-British moral. 
The resulting picture, a hotch-potch devised by Lothar 
Mendes, was put out to the public as being by the makers 
of Chang. Those who remembered the natural quality 
of the latter film were dismayed to find in The Four Feathers 
a devastating attempt to cut in a few shots of hippopotami 
charging and baboons escaping from a bush fire with a 
Hollywood movie of the worst type. The animal shots, 
nice enough in themselves, were totally out of place, having 
no relation to the rest of the picture. In this way does 
picture-sense spoil the only good work done by 
American directors. Producers have the entirely fallacious 
idea at the back of their heads that they are catering for 
the public taste. The situation is rendered the more signifi- 
cant by the preceding success of Chang, which stood on 
its own merits without the aid of Hollywood. This 
deplorable habit, popular with big producers, of incor- 
porating a few excellent but irrelevant shots in an otherwise 
cheap movie, is typical of the picture-sense mind. They 
calculate that the public would not go for a film entirely 
composed of animals; but they will see the animals if 
smoothed down by Messrs. Clive Brook, William Powell, 
Richard Arlen, Noah Beery, and misty-eyed Fay Wray. 
Wings, whilst dealing with the air, was good; but when it 
descended to earth, to Clara Bow and the boys, it was un- 
bearable, On these occasions, the intelligent public must 

207 



THE ACTUAL 

take the bad with the good. It is the way of Hollywood. 

Of other films to be added to this group of open-air 
productions, mention must be made of William K. 
Howard's White Gold, which attempted to appeal to two 
types of audience, the intelligent and the rest; and Karl 
Brown's excellent picture, Stark Love, with Helen Munday, 
Forest James, and Silas Miracle. Howard's film was made 
in the so-called Continental technique, meaning that he paid 
more attention to atmosphere than to individuals. Instead 
of the crowded dance-hall, only the shadows were shown; 
in place of a shot of the corpse, the hero looked behind the 
door and drew back with horror plainly written in his face. 
Howard also tried the repetition of single word titles with 
with some success, but the film as a whole was inclined to 
be laboured. He was also the director of some early 
Westerns, Light of the Western Stars and The Border 
Legion. Karl Brown's film, which was financed by Famous- 
Player s-Lasky, was taken during 1927, among the primitive 
descendants of pioneers in the Appalachian mountains of 
North Carolina. The director had been the cameraman 
on Paramount's The Covered Wagon, and Stark Love was 
a reminder of the grandness of the pictorial beauty of the 
earlier film. The acting material was raw nature; the 
story-interest simple and convincing ; the direction straight- 
forward with a sense of dramatic value. The film was to 
be ranged .on a level with Flaherty's Moana and Jean 
Epstein's Finis Terrae. 

* 

Returning to the ranks of the ordinary movie directors, 
there are found a large number of second and third rate 
film men. Much of their work is of little save passing 
interest, and does not call for further comment than that 
usually accorded to it in the daily Press. Most of these 
secondary directors are like popular dance tunes — they only 
tell for a short time. Movies are easily made, and just as 
easily forgotten. On rare occasions, one of their films 
contains some little device, some twist of the camera that is 
interesting, some odd close-up which for the moment holds 

208 










MOANA, directed by Robert J. Flaherty. [American, 1926] 




BE BIG, directed by Hal Roach. Laurel and Hardy. [American, Ca., 1931] 



THE AMERICAN FILM 

the spectator, but for the most part they are dull. Even 
as it is characteristic of big directors to convey a great 
deal in a few shots, so, on the contrary, these small directors 
tend to photograph much and say nothing. It is these film 
men who make a steady stream of pictures with which to 
fill the screens of the world. None of these movies is 
wholly good or wholly bad. Each is saturated with mental 
sob-stuff, high-spot thrills, alluring sexual positions, false 
patriotic motives, spectacular settings, and ravishing clothes. 
All are turned out with a polished, facile, slick technique. 
They are conceived, taken, and presented with one purpose 
in mind — picture-sense. Most of these directors have been 
in the business some length of time. They may be relied 
upon to turn out an average picture in a given length of 
production time, with any given star and any given story. 

Herbert Brenon has been making pictures ever since he 
staggered America with the Annette Kellerman film, The 
Daughter of the Gods, in 1916, for which production he 
diverted a river from its course and altered the face of a 
landscape. Brenon, therefore, started his directorial career 
in the best tradition. Since that date he has produced a 
continuous flow of movies, mostly of the mock-sentimental 
kind, including versions of Barrie's Peter Pan and A Kiss 
for Cinderella; The Side Show of Life; The Alaskan; 
The Little French Girl; that very successful, popular film, 
Beau Geste, the forerunner of many similar pictures; and 
more recently, an adaption of Warwick Deeping's Sorrell 
and Son, a film of guaranteed appeal, but little filmic con- 
tent. Brenon principally lacks imagination. His sense of 
pictorial values is sound, but his cinematic interpretation is 
negligible. 

Raoul Walsh has made a curious assortment of films, 
showing at rare intervals a feeling for cinema and always 
a strong motive of picture-sense. Chief among his work 
ranks Sadie Thompson, an adaption of Somerset Maug- 
ham's brilliant short story and play, Rain. In this film, 
some three years ago, Gloria Swanson made her come-back 
to the screen and Lionel Barrymore acted with distinction. 

209 14 



THE ACTUAL 

Walsh did his best to tell the story of the fugitive from San 
Francisco, and the professional reformer who persecutes 
her until he himself is obsessed with sexual desire; but the 
contrived happy ending, which may have fitted in with 
United Artists' idea of picture-sense, was mediocre. Never- 
theless, Gloria Swanson's performance was remarkable, and 
succeeded in placing her as an actress of talent far above 
the usual Hollywood standard. Walsh's second best 
picture was one of the war films so prevalent a few years 
ago, and as such was singularly unsuccessful. Despite its 
mock-heroic character, What Price Glory? was directed 
with some degree of vigour, and was, of course, satisfactory 
from a commercial point of view. Like the other American 
war films, it said nothing of the war itself except for a 
few sequences of blood and thunder. At an earlier date 
than this, Raoul Walsh had revelled in attempted fantasy, 
for he was responsible for the ice-cream mixture of The 
Thief of Bagdad, and others of an Eastern texture, such 
as The Lady of the Harem. To his credit, also, are to be 
placed the Negri film, East of Suez, The Wanderer, The 
Loves of Carmen, and The Monkey Talks. 

Cecil B. De Mille is likewise to be reckoned among this 
group of directors, and although his work cannot be 
accepted with sincerity he is nevertheless a curiosity. Briefly 
one thinks of De Mille as a pseudo-artist with a flair for the 
spectacular and the tremendous; a shrewd sense of the bad 
taste of the lower type of the general public, to which he 
panders; and a fondness for the daring, vulgar, and pre- 
tentious. His productions number many, all of which by 
reason of their magnitude and publicity are well-known. 
In particular, he is responsible for The Ten Command- 
ments, The Volga Boatmen, The Road to Yesterday, The 
Golden Bed, The King of Kings, and The Godless Girl, 
none of which demands further investigation. 

Donald Crisp is a director of the good, honest type, with 
a simple go-ahead idea of telling a story. He has made, 
among others, one of the best of the post-war Fairbanks 
films, Don Q, and Buster Keaton's The Navigator. In the 

210 



THE AMERICAN FILM 

same class are to be reckoned such men as Fred Niblo, who 
made the spectacle of spectacles, Ben-Hur, as well as The 
Temptress, and Fairbanks' Mark of Zorro; Victor 
Fleming, who ' handled ' Emil Jannings in The Way of All 
Flesh, made Mantrap with Clara Bow, a pseudo-epic in The 
Trumpet Call, Lord Jim, and The Virginian, for which last, 
however, he deserves warm praise; Rupert Julian, who 
directed The Phantom of the Opera, Hell's Highroad, and 
completed The Merry -Go -Round when Stroheim left off; 
and Alan Crosland, maker of Bobbed Hair, Three Weeks, 
and that abominable costume picture with John Barrymore, 
Don Juan, followed by another as bad, The Beloved Rogue. 

The leader of the sentimentalists and gauzed photo- 
graphy school is, of course, Frank Borzage, who makes 
pictures for Mr. Fox. He is principally known for that 
1 film of the year ', Seventh Heaven, which he followed 
later with similar eyewash, The Street Angel. Both of 
these pictures are generally considered as being beautiful, 
superb, artistic, and superlative in every way, but their titles 
are all that need be recorded of them. 

George Fitzmaurice directs movies like The Dark Angel 
and Love Lies, about which there is nothing to say; 
Marshall Neilan takes the credit for the unfortunate Tess 
of the d'Urbervilles, Diplomacy, and The Venus of Venice; 
Sam Taylor has a knowledge of rough slapstick, and has 
made some of the Harold Lloyd comedies, MaryPickford's 
My Best Girl, and lately, the dialogue version of The 
Taming of the Shrew. Tod Browning once made a film 
which was reputed to be of interest, The Unholy Three, 
and later The Blackbird, Under Two Flags, and The 
Mystic; Rowland V. Lee, directed The Man Without a 
Country, Havoc, said to be the best American war film, 
and The Outsider; whilst Allan Dwan made Tin Gods 
and The Music Master. 

Among those whom I should class as better directors 
are to be recorded such men as Lewis Milestone, who made 
an excellent comedy in Tzvo Arabian Knights, and has since 
directed a clever melodramatic film of the bootlegger type, 

211 



THE ACTUAL 

The Racket, with Louis Wolheim. Milestone is well aware 
of the right use of half-lighting, of well-chosen camera 
angles and of contrasted motives of tension with unexpected 
movement of material. Victor Schertzinger is another 
director who has done notable work, prominently in that 
excellent film, Forgotten Faces, where, although he was 
inclined to misuse his moving camera shots, he built up 
some dramatic situations. He has many pictures to his 
name, amongst which are Man and Maid, The Wheel and 
Thunder Mountain. E. H. Griffith was the maker of a 
sincere film, Judgement, a dramatic theme of a man's 
cowardice, and has also to his credit Headlines and Bad 
Company. Harry Hoyt will be remembered for his com- 
petent version of Conan Doyle's extraordinary story, The 
Lost World, a film in which Lewis Stone, Bessie Love, 
Wallace Beery, and Lloyd Hughes played with distinction. 

Dorothy Arzner is a clever woman director who at one 
time wrote scenarios, took up editing {The Covered 
Wagon) and finally made a picture called Fashions for 
Women. Lois Weber is another woman director, who 
made that excessively dull movie, The Sensation Seekers. 

To this long list are to be added the names of some of 
the older school, like Thomas H. Ince, Ralph Ince, King 
Baggot, Clarence Badger, Herbert Blache, Charles Brabin, 
Edwin Carewe, Jack Conway, Irving Cumings, William C. 
de Mille, Joseph Henaberry, Frank Lloyd, Sam Wood, and 
Edward Sedgwick. 1 

There are many younger men in Hollywood who, having 
had their schooling as scenario-writers and assistant- 
directors to already well-established film makers, are taken 
on and launched by the big studios. The majority of their 
work is best described as being modelled on the Lubitsch- 
Stroheim-Chaplin style : a well assorted medley of ideas 
gleaned from The Marriage Circle, Foolish Wives, and A 

x The first three of these directors, at least, merit far more attention 
than they are given here (in 1929), and the reader is referred to Lewis 
Jacob's Rise of the American Film (1939), and to Miss Iris Barry's 
various publications and programme notes issued by the Museum of 
Modern Art Film Library, New York. 

212 



THE AMERICAN FILM 

Woman of Paris. It is quite unnecessary to analyse such 
movies at length, for they nearly all conform to what has 
already been described as the formula of man, woman, and 
sin. They are slick, facile, flashy, well-photographed 
pictures, displaying here and there touches of Germanic 
influence in their camera angles. They are always rapid 
in pace, being briskly cut, with what are usually termed 
' snappy ' titles. It will suffice to mention : Mai St. Clair 
(Good And Naughty, The Show Off, Gentlemen Prefer 
Blondes, etc.); Monta Bell, assistant to Chaplin on A 
Woman of Paris (Broadway After Dark, Man, Woman, 
and Sin, Pretty Ladies, etc.) ; William Wellman, who must 
be given praise for making Wings, although that film's 
merit lay with its fifteen cameramen, and You Never Know 
Women, from Ernst Vadja's story; Victor Heerman (For 
Wives Only); Sidney Franklin (The Duchess of Buffalo, 
with Constance Talmadge, and recently Wild Orchids, with 
Greta Garbo); Paul Bern, who wrote the script for The 
Beloved Rogue and made Grounds for Divorce; Frank 
Tuttle, scenarist for Allan Dwan's Manhandled, with 
Gloria Swanson, and director of The American Venus and 
Blind Alleys; James Flood, (Three Hours) ; Roy del Ruth, 
whose Wolfs Clothing was far above the average movie; 
and H. d'Abbadie d'Arrast, Chaplin's assistant on The 
Gold Rush (A Gentleman of Paris, Serenade, and Service 
for Ladies, all with Adolphe Menjou). 

The titles of the above movies clearly indicate their sub- 
ject and trend. They may be summed up, perhaps, in three 
titles, The Popular Sim, The Waning Sex, and Blonde or 
Brunette. 

In the last eighteen months, there has arisen a number of 
new film directors who, owing to the dialogue film, have 
migrated from the stage. Many of the old silent film 
directors have also adapted their technique to the new 
demands of sound. In this group are to be found such men 
as Harry Beaumont, maker in the past of Glass Houses, 
Gold Diggers, and Our Dancing Daughters, and more 
recently of The Broadway Melody; Charles Reisner, who 

213 



THE ACTUAL 

years ago directed Sydney Chaplin in The Man on the Box, 
and made The Hollywood Revue and Chasing Rainbows; 
and Marcel Silver, director of Fox Movietone Follies. With 
the dialogue period opened what may be called an era of 
new names as well as an era of new values. The intro- 
duction of this usurping mechanical achievement has 
rendered many of the old attributes of a film director no 
longer applicable. 



Apart from the comedies of Chaplin, it is necessary only 
to mention the more recent work of Buster Keaton and the 
expensive knock-about contraptions of Harold Lloyd. 
Keaton at his best as in The General, College, and the first 
two reels of Spite Marriage, has real merit. His humour 
is dry, exceptionally well constructed and almost entirely 
mechanical in execution. He has set himself the task of 
an assumed personality, which succeeds in becoming comic 
by its very sameness. He relies, also, on the old method 
of repetition, which when enhanced by his own inscrutable 
individuality becomes incredibly funny. His comedies 
show an extensive knowledge of the contrast of shapes and 
sizes and an extremely pleasing sense of the ludicrous. 
Keaton has, above all, the great asset of being funny in 
himself. He looks odd, does extraordinary things and 
employs uproariously funny situations with considerable 
skill. The Keaton films are usually very well photographed, 
with a minimum of detail and a maximum of effect. It 
would be ungrateful, perhaps, to suggest that he tries to 
take from Chaplin that which is essentially Chaplin's, but 
nevertheless Keaton has learnt from the great actor and 
would probably be the first to admit it. 

The Harold Lloyd comedies fall into a lower class, but 
are usually amusing. In my estimation, at least, Lloyd 
is not funny in himself and has none of the attributes of 
Chaplin, or even Keaton. His comedies are fast moving, 
vigorous in action of the material, being entirely contrived 
out of a series of comic situations. Lloyd movies are 

214 



THE AMERICAN FILM 

excellent examples of the gag comedy. Many minds con- 
tribute to the nonsense of the escapes and chases and 
ingenious escapades that go to make up College Days, 
Safety Last, and For Heaven's Sake. There is no centrali- 
sation about a Lloyd comedy as there is in the Chaplin 
film. There is no unity of character; no building up of 
personality. The Harold Lloyd pictures are good fun. 
They may always be relied upon for amusement of a harm- 
less, light and thoughtless nature. They are essentially 
physically stimulating. They serve their purpose in that 
no audience is left dull or depressed after seeing a Lloyd 
comedy. 



From this brief survey of some of the more important 
American films, it will have been seen that most of the out- 
put is ephemeral in value. Seldom will a Hollywood film 
bear reiteration. It passes through the hands of the story- 
writer, the selection committee, the scenario editor, the 
treatment writer, the scenarist, the gag-man, the production 
committee, the director, the cameraman, the art director, 
the players, the title-writer, the professional cutter and the 
film editor, until eventually the finished product is launched 
on to the massed audiences, who are lured to see it by all 
manner of persuasive advertising, exploitation stunts and 
suggestive attractions. This life of a movie is precalculated 
and preorganised from the beginning to the end. 1 Never- 
theless, despite these conditions of manufacture, the mass 
production, the obstinate committees, the uncreative 
directors, the horrors of the star-system and the corrugated 
iron environment, there are occasions when a single film, 
the creative work of one man's mind, makes its appearance. 
There are in Hollywood, fortunately, men of intelligence 
whose very personality over-rides the machinery. With 
wisdom and discretion they use to full advantage the organ- 
isation of Hollywood and its excellent technical resources. 
From Chaplin, Stroheim, Griffith, at one time Fairbanks, 

1 Cf . p. 140. 

215 



THE AMERICAN FILM 

Lubitsch, and Vidor, there have come films that are of the 
highest merit : The Gold Rush, A Woman of Paris, Greed, 
Broken Blossoms, The Black Pirate, Forbidden Paradise, 
and Hallelujah! In another category, produced under 
different conditions from those controlling the making of 
cine-fiction, there has been the individual work of Flaherty, 
Karl Brown, Schoedsack, and Cooper : Moana, Chang, 
Grass, Stark Love, and Nanook. These were films of great 
excellence that will endure and be studied in the future. On 
the whole, however, America's greatest achievements have 
been in her Westerns, her relatively few natural resources 
films, and her polished, satirical comedies. Due to the 
fusion of Chaplin and Lubitsch influence, the best of the 
cine-fiction films have been the domesticated comedies and 
the subtly-pointed bedroom pieces; films of the Wolfs 
Clothing, So This Is Paris, and Serenade variety. They 
comprise the lighter side of film production and have been 
developed to a state of perfection far beyond the dramatic 
tragedy of The Way of All Flesh school. In the dialogue 
film, the adaptation of stage plays from such writers as 
Somerset Maugham and Frederick Lonsdale indicates a 
tendency to continue along these lines. 

Hollywood, before the coming of the dialogue film, was 
a factory of skilled workers, all of whom were able to pro- 
duce films with a technique that had become polished by 
experience and efficient organisation. These men are 
adapting their practical knowledge to the new processes 
demanded by the visual and aural cinema along the line 
of least resistance. They are foolishly attempting to com- 
bine the widely divergent techniques of the stage and the 
film. But the public, many of them fresh to the cinema, 
support the new process in their love of novelty, sensation, 
and realism. Our filmic knowledge triumphs with ease 
over the past and the future evils of the cinema; but the 
present evils of dialogue and realism triumph over our 
knowledge to-day by reason of their commercial strength. 



216 






m 



i 



& 




t m 



GRANDMA'S BOY directed by Fred Newmayer. Harold Lloyd [American, 1922^ 




STEAMBOAT BILL, JR., directed by Charles S. Reisner. Buster Keaton. 
[American, 1928] 






4 -V^;^:" ;• 



MOTHER, directed by V. I. Pudovkin. [Soviet, 1926] 




BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN, directed by S. M. Eisenstein. [Soviet, 1925] 



VI 

THE SOVIET FILM 

There is always a tendency to exaggerate the discovery 
of a new invention, a fresh philosophy, or an original theory 
of painting; similarly, the significance of the Soviet film 
has been largely over-rated by enthusiastic cineastes in 
this country. Perhaps the primary reason why the discovery 
of the Soviet cinema has been more momentous in Britain 
than on the Continent is because, until comparatively 
recently, all productions from the U.S.S.R. have been with- 
held from public exhibition by the British Board of Film 
Censors. In consequence, fanned by eulogistic descriptions 
from abroad, there has risen a heated demand from the 
circle of film writers and experimentalists in Britain for 
the wholesale acceptance of Soviet films. Officially dis- 
countenanced, the forbidden productions have assumed 
gigantic importance as ' works of art ' in the minds of the 
British intelligentsia. All Soviet films are hailed as the 
supreme examples of modern cinema; all Soviet directors 
as filmic geniuses; with the result that the cult for Soviet 
films (still in great part forbidden) has become slightly 
hysterical and more than a little tedious in its parrot-like 
cry. 1 

Actually, the product of the Soviet film industry is to 
be surveyed with the strictest reservation. It is to be 
accorded the severest criticism, for it has been born of 
remarkable circumstances during a span of twelve eventful 
and restless years. Moreover, it should be remembered 
that the present state of the Soviet cinema has been made 
possible only by the social and political events that have 
taken place in Russia since the October revolution of 1917. 
But this is not to assume, as is often done, that a similar 

1 Vide: the contemporary issue of Close Up, Vols. 2-4 (1928-29). 

217 



THE ACTUAL 

progression of events would automatically produce a cinema 
such as that of the Soviets in Britain. 

The Soviet cinema is immensely powerful. Its films 
carry social and political contents expressed so emotionally 
and with such a degree of technical perfection that the con- 
tent may be accepted in the temporary admiration of the 
method. This has unfortunately been the case with the 
numerous over-young and over-enthusiastic cineastes, 
which is suggestive of their lack of balanced critical 
faculties. Because of its full use of the resources of the 
cinema, the Soviet film to-day is in the position to influence 
an attitude of mind and an outlook on life. It is, in point 
of fact, produced for that very purpose. On this account, 
therefore, acceptance of a film produced in the U.S.S.R. 
as an example of filmic exposition must be guided by 
rigorous and careful deliberation. In hasty admiration of 
perfect technique, it is easy to accept content, theme, and 
meaning without thought as to their full intention. 

It will be recalled that among the proposals of the Soviet 
Government when it assumed control in 1917, was the 
suggestion that all forms of expression to the public, such 
as the cinema, the theatre, the press, and literature, should 
be under the guidance of the State. The aim was, of 
course, that the new ideas and concepts of the Government 
should be widely circulated in the outlying areas as well 
as in the industrial centres. The theatre essentially was to 
become a unified form of drama, arising out of the social 
necessities of the masses. This aim has to some extent 
been successful, having evolved, during the process of 
rebuilding, a technique such as exists nowhere outside 
Soviet Russia. Incorporated in this constructive policy 
for the theatre was a similar but wider aim for the cinema. 
Originally, I believe, only a few of the Soviet leaders 
realised the capabilities of the film as an instrument of 
propaganda, considering the theatre the more powerful. But 
they have since become aware of the vast superiority of 
the cinema over the stage, both for economic reasons and 
for its greater breadth of representation, until now it is 

218 



THE SOVIET FILM 

the principal medium of expression for the Government. 
The initial aim of the Soviet film was to reflect and inter- 
pret a new social civilisation in the making, as conceived 
by Marx and realised by Lenin, which resulted in a form 
of cinema demanding an entirely new scale of values. Lenin 
intended the theatre to be a microcosm of the complete 
theory of Bolshevism, to be admired and copied by the 
masses. But it was Lenin also who declared that 'of all 
the arts the most important for Russia is, to my mind, that 
of the cinema.' 

The nationalisation of the Soviet film did not take place 
until 1910, but two years earlier, in December, a special 
Cinema Commission was held in Leningrad by the People's 
Commissariat of Education to lay down a future policy. 
The complete control of film production and distribution, 
however, soon passed into the hands of the Government 
and there began the development of the cinema along the 
lines of Lenin's policy. From that time onward, films were 
produced according to carefully laid plans, with certain 
types of films for certain audiences. The new cinema 
depicted the general policy of the Government and of the 
people; of construction and of creation. Further, all 
profit derived from the exhibition of films went to the real- 
isation of better and more productions. Theoretically, it 
was an admirable state of affairs for the nurturing of a new 
form of dramatic expression. 

Even as in literature themes are developed, ideas pro- 
pounded, and problems solved beyond the mere exercise of 
writing and style, so the Soviet directors contrived to 
employ the visual images of the cinema to express, not, 
as in other countries, mere thrilling episodes and acrobatic 
sensations, but the spirit and heart of the people. Under the 
new policy a film was considered worthless unless it eluci- 
dated some new idea for the stimulation of mass thought. 
On principle, every film presented a problem or a theory 
which was definitely connected with the everyday life of 
the persons for whom it was made. A content of socio- 
logical importance was the basis of all productions; and 

219 



THE ACTUAL 

around this was woven a narrative story-interest. Added 
to which, numerous pictures were made which depicted the 
events of the Revolution and life under the Czarist regime, 
both of which were, as was to be expected, treated to suit 
the Government's purpose. (The exclusion of Trotsky, for 
instance, in Eisenstein's Ten Days that Shook the World, 
renders it inaccurate as an historical document. One 
remembers, also, the distortion of historical events in the 
French Commune film, Kozintzev and Trauberg's New 
Babylon.) Commercially, aesthetically, and politically the 
cinema was the ideal medium for the presentation of the 
Soviet ideology. 

We are to understand, then, that the Soviet film, such 
as has been produced in increasing numbers as the years 
have progressed, is designed to instruct, to develop, and 
to connect up the thought and conditions of the out- 
lying villages with that of the big towns ; so that each man, 
woman, and child in every district shall be made aware of 
the social, scientific, industrial, and political progress of the 
State. And in order to stimulate the interest of the masses 
in the film industry, production is taken into their lives so 
that they have opportunities to participate in realisations, 
to write scenarios, 1 and to vote approval or disapproval of 
a film's content before production takes place. There are 
said to be organisations for the close co-operation between 
producing companies and the people, so as to enable sub- 
jects of significance to all classes to be represented. But, 
it must be remembered, Russia is a vast country with great 
areas of thinly populated lands in the agricultural districts 
where villages are separated by many miles. In order to 
secure exhibition of films in these districts, therefore, there 
are travelling cinemas, each of which takes a monthly route, 
visiting about twenty villages. When it has completed its 
round, it begins again with a new programme. Thus even 
the most isolated villages are kept constantly in touch with 

1 Leon Moussinac in Le Cinema Sovietique gives the following 
information; that, in 1927, the Sovkino received no fewer than 2,000 
scenarios from the public; whilst the Vufku-kino, in the same year, 
had more than 1,300. 

220 



THE SOVIET FILM 

movements in the towns. Each of the latter has, of course, 
its cinemas, and statistics show a rapid increase in theatres 
during the last few years. The distribution of films takes 
place almost exclusively through Government channels; 
films carrying different contents being sent to various parts, 
according to the State's calculation of the needs of the 
populace in each district. In this way, the cinema reaches 
and influences the minds of the workers, the tradesmen, 
and the citizens in the towns, as well as the peasants in 
Siberia and the tribesmen in Turkestan. 1 

Hence, the content of every film is its raison d'etre, 
whether of social, heroic, epic, historical, romantic, human, 
or national importance. Moreover, it is out of the desire 
to express this content with the greatest amount of 
emotional effect on the simple minds of the masses that the 
cinematic technique of Soviet directors has developed to 
a state of efficiency equalled by no other film-producing 
country in the world. 



Soviet films fall into various classes, each made for a 
special purpose, and these are roughly as follow : 

(a) General subjects dealing with life before, during, 
and after the Revolution, including satires, dramas, 
comedies, melodramas, etc. The usual aim of these 
pictures is to show the tyranny and oppression under the 
Czarist regime and the benefits derived from Soviet control. 
The subject is approached through various channels viz., 
the mass or epic film, of comparatively contemporary in- 
terest, showing the masses challenging the old-established 
authority (Ten Days that Shook the World, Battleship 
Potemkin, Strike); the individual film, depicting the 
effect of the Revolution on a single person, or group of 
persons (Mother, The End of St. Petersburg); the his- 
torical or monumental film, dealing with the past historical 
events of massed revolt (New Babylon, S.V.D., Revolt in 

1 Cf. the development of non-theatrical distribution in the United 
Kingdom by the British Ministry of Information during 1940-45. 

221 



THE ACTUAL 

Kazan) ; the reconstruction film, portraying life under the 
advantages of the Soviet regime, the rebuilding of the New- 
Russia and the formation of the Worker, the Citizen, and 
the Peasant, etc. {The Fragment of an Empire, Life's 
Roads, The Peasant Women of Riazan, Pits, The Girl with 
the Band-Box) ; and such films as Eisenstein's The General 
Line, which showed the State laying economic foundations 
for mechanised agriculture; Dziga-Vertov's The Eleventh 
Year, which reflected the economic and social development 
of the Ukraine under ten years of Soviet control; and 
Turksib, Turin's superb film of the construction of the 
Turkestan-Siberian railway. 

(b) The educational, scientific, and cultural film, which 
is a form of cinema that the Government has developed to 
a wide degree. Instructional films are made about every 
conceivable subject : industrial, medical, geographical, 
ethnological, etc., and are shown widely with a view to 
improving education. Special films are made, for example, 
for the technical instruction of engineers and electricians, 
and for the officers and men of the Red Army, on field 
manoeuvres, aerial defence and attack, etc. 

(c) The news-reel, which, as in other countries, is a 
survey of the events of the week. It is, of course, largely 
used to popularise the leaders of the country. 

(d) The children's film, both cine-fiction and educational. 
For each of these groups there exists in every producing 

company separate scenario departments and information 
bureaux, which are capable of dealing with the various 
stages of scenario treatment. This highly developed 
organisation for the classification, cataloguing, and sorting 
of film scenarios is an important feature of the Soviet 
cinema. In no other film producing country is so much 
attention paid to the construction of scenario work. Under 
the control of the central bureau is the selection of themes 
for the year's output, so that the films may accord exactly 
with the aim of the Government, politically, socially, and 
financially. There exist also other departments which deal 
with the scenarios and manuscripts sent in by the people, 

222 



THE SOVIET FILM 

and with the examination of literature, documents, etc., 
published in Russia and abroad that would make possible 
film material. The realisation of the films, once the sub- 
jects are chosen, is again a matter of close collaboration. 
The production units are allotted, according to their 
characteristics, to deal with such subjects as are deemed 
suitable to them. The workers in every studio (directors, 
cameramen, scenarists, architects, etc.) are all assessed, so 
to speak, with regard to their individual qualifications. In 
this way the achievement of perfect collectivism is 
attempted in film production. 

The majority of the technicians and acting personnel 
go through special courses of training before assuming their 
positions in the studios. As is well-known, there exists 
the Moscow State School of Cinematography, which was 
founded in 1919 for the intensive training of workers in 
all branches of the industry. There are also several other 
schools throughout the country, in Leningrad and in the 
Ukraine. All producing firms have to give a certain 
number of positions in their studios to graduates from the 
State schools. In the latter, every section of film production 
is included, so that before entry into a studio a worker has 
some knowledge of film technique, acting, psychology, 
dramatic literature, make-up, acrobatics, dancing, etc., as 
well as his specialised skill in his particular job, be it 
scenario-work, assistant-direction,, photography, lighting, 
set-construction, or in the laboratory. There exists also the 
Fex group, at Leningrad, for the sole purpose of experi- 
ment and avant-garde work. All the State schools are 
regularly visited by the better-known directors and techni- 
cians, who lecture and instruct on theory and on their 
practical experience of production work. 



Briefly, then, the cinema is the main medium of the 
Commissariat of Education for the instruction of the 
people; and thus, we understand that the primary aim of 
the Soviet Government is to carry the principles of Com- 

223 



THE ACTUAL 

munism by means of the cinema, not only throughout 
Russia, but to the farthest corners of the world. If the 
intellectual classes of foreign countries find their aesthetic 
ideal in these films (as is perhaps the case) then so much the 
better for the Soviet, since it will render it easier for their 
content to be absorbed. 



It may be suggested that such an ideal state of conditions 
for film production cannot exist without some flaw in the 
pattern. The complete organisation, co-operation, and har- 
mony of working conditions appear to be the dream- 
paradise of the cineaste. There is, however, a serious 
drawback in the apparent happiness of the Soviet film 
industry; it lies at the root of the organisation, actually 
in the policy of the Government itself. There is a certain 
inward antagonism between the Government and the 
production units. The cinema is controlled by Communists 
whose sole aim is the spread of their faith; whilst 
the realisation of the best films is in the hands of the 
workers, who are also by way of being artists. As a result, 
a film director, who for some years past has been training 
his mind and has been contented with the policy dictated 
to him in his work, may now find himself in the position of 
being unable to realise his aesthetic principles if they do 
not conform to the wishes of the Government. He can 
only make a film of a subject approved by the controlling 
State bureau. 

Although probably he has freedom of expression in actual 
technical representation, his aesthetic progress is limited by 
the demands of the production committee. Unless he is a 
Communist, his work may become stultified by the eternal 
theme of propaganda. It is ridiculous to suggest that the 
Soviet Government produces films for the sheer love of the 
medium. They do indeed make ' art ' films, but only for 
export in order to secure the appreciation of foreign 
intelligentsia, I have no hesitation in saying that the Soviet 

224 




:v.." ! :j?vS?: 






".«#*" 



» 



S» 



THE GENERAL LINE, directed by S. M. Eisenstein. Marfa Lapkina. 
[Soviet, 1926-29] 




NEW BABYLON, directed by G. Kozintzev and L. Trauberg. [Soviet, 1929] 



THE SOVIET FILM 

film director is as restricted in his self-development as his 
confrere in Hollywood is bound by the capitalistic methods 
of picture-sense and star-system. Neither is free to 
develop his knowledge of the cinema along an individual 
instinctive course. The Soviet director, it is true, has the 
benefit of being able to realise his own ideas of technical 
expression {viz. editing and cutting) which the German, 
American, and British director has not; but they are each 
equally prevented from progress in the realisation of their 
intellectual, spiritual, and creative conception of the film 
as a means of self-expression. 1 

The two Soviet directors, S. M. Eisenstein 2 and V. I. 
Pudovkin, have achieved during their evolutionary period 
the enviable position of being the most eminent directors in 
the world. They have been satisfied with State control 
over their themes and concepts whilst they have been other- 
wise interested in the perfection of their technique. But 
they are now in the extraordinary position of possessing 
a marvellous degree of technical accomplishment and of 
being unable to employ it freely to express their personal 
attitude towards life. Either they must continue to be 
good Communists, content to remain making films for the 
purpose of propaganda, or they must leave their native 
country and seek employment elsewhere. It is certain that 
if they are true artists, with the inevitable international 
outlook of an artist, they will never be allowed completely 
free expression of their minds in Soviet Russia under the 
present system of State control. 

This remarkable condition of affairs can only be applied 
at the moment to the few eminent directors of the U.S.S.R. 
(Eisenstein, Pudovkin, and possibly Kozintzev, Trauberg, 
Turin, Dovjenko, and Ermler) for the majority of Soviet 
regisseurs are mechanical in their outlook and will be easily 
persuaded to manufacture a steady output of State-con- 
trolled films. The position will be rendered more acute, 

1 Cf. the subsequent development of Eisenstein, Pudovkin, Dovjenko, 
Turin, et al. 

2 Died in Moscow, February, 1948. 

225 15 



THE ACTUAL 

however, when the film schools produce further creative 
mentalities. Even the iron rule of a Soviet regime cannot 
suppress the birth and development of an instinctively 
creative mind. 



As might be expected from an industry organised under 
a system of bureaucracy there is a network of producing 
companies in Soviet Russia, each employing its individual 
directors and units. The principal concerns are : the 
Sovkino, with studios at Leningrad and Moscow; the 
Mejrabpom-Russ, with studios at the same cities; the 
Vufkn-kino, at Kiev and Odessa, in the Ukraine; the 
Goskinprom, at Tiflis in Georgia ; the Belgoskino, at Minsk 
in White Russia; the Ttirkmenkino, in Turkmenistan; the 
Vostok-kino, at Baku ; and the Armenkino, in Armenia. 

The Sovkino, which came into being in 1925, employ 
many directors, of whom the most important are S. M. 
Eisenstein, Lev Kuleshov, Abram Room, Kozintzev and 
Trauberg, Ermler, Olga Preobrashenskaia, Yuri-Tarich, 
Popov, and Esther Schub. They are the sole distributors of 
Soviet films abroad and the only importers of the foreign 
product. To the Mejrabpom-Russ (a collective word 
meaning the International Workers' Relief) are attached 
V. I. Pudovkin, Y. A. Protazanov, Fiodor Otzep, Kon- 
stantin Eggert, V. Obelenski, Zheliabuzhski, Boris Barnet, 
V. R. Gardin, etc. The Vufku-kino, in the Ukraine, claim 
Dovjenko, Dziga-Vertov, Kauffmann, Georgi Stabavoi, 
Raismann, Kavaleridze, etc. Many other directors of 
scientific and documentary films, as well as of cine-fiction, 
attached to these and other companies, are far too numerous 
for inclusion. 



Until 1925, when the production of Eisenstein's Battle- 
ship Potemkin marked a new era in the technique of the 

226 



THE SOVIET FILM 

cinema, numerous films were realised by various producing 
concerns in Moscow and Leningrad — by the Sevsapkino, 
the Kino-Sever (Kino-North), the Goskino, and the 
Mejrabpom-Russ companies. Few of these pictures, how- 
ever, have been shown outside Soviet Russia, and the possi- 
bility that they will now be seen is remote. In any case, I 
do not believe that they were of great value save as a 
training ground for the directors of to-day, nearly all of 
whom were engaged in some minor capacity during this 
early period. Pantelev, Doronin, Viskovski, Kuleshov, 
Gardin, Protazanov, Razumni, Zheliabuzhski, and Barski 
were some of the principal directors of that time; such 
men as Otzep, Nathan Zarkhi (later scenarist to the 
Pudovkin films) and Yuri-Tarich being employed as 
scenarists. Pictures of some interest to be connected with 
this era were Palace and Fortress, a large-scale historical 
production, by Ivanovski ; The Adventures of an Octoberite, 
a political satire, by Kozintzev and Trauberg; The 
Executioners, a big production dealing with political events 
from 1905 to 1918, by Pantelev; The Death Ray, by 
Kuleshov, from a scenario by Pudovkin; The Adventures 
of Mr. West Among the Bolsheviki, a comedy of manners, 
also by Kuleshov; The Cigarette Merchant of Mosselprom, 
a comedy by Zheliabuzhski ; and The Tailor of Torjok, by 
Protazanov. During this transition stage several art-films, 
theatrical in technique, were also produced, some being 
shown in Britain at a later date. 1 Of these may be men- 
tioned The Postmaster, from the novel by Pushkin, scenario 
by Otzep and direction by Zheliabuzhski ; Morosko, a folk- 
lore film by the same director; Polikushka, from the 
Tolstoi novel ; and a macabre melodrama, The Marriage of 
the Bear, directed and played by Konstantin Eggert, from 
a script by Lunacharsky. These were produced by the 
Mejrabpom-Russ company and members of the first 

1 Mr. F. A. Enders, of Messrs. Film Booking Offices, London, was 
responsible for the handling of The Postmaster and The Marriage of 
the Bear in Britain. He also held several other films from the 
U.S.S.R. at that time, including the celebrated Potemkin, and A'elita, 
but was unable to show them owing to censorship regulations. 

227 



THE ACTUAL 

Moscow Art Theatre took part in their realisation. To them 
is to be added the big decorative production of Aelita, 
directed by Protazanov, from the play by Count Alexei 
Tolstoi. This was an extraordinary Martian fantasy, com- 
bining the events in Russia during 1917 and 1918 with a 
fictional story on the planet ; it was notable for its wonderful 
massed grouping of crowds and for the cubist settings and 
costumes designed by Isaac Rabinovitch and Madame 
Alexandra Exter, of the Kamerny Theatre, Moscow. It 
has not been shown in Britain. The influence of the stage, 
in setting, lighting, and acting was strongly marked on 
these ' art ' films, there being no trace of the dynamic 
filmic properties that were later to become the main 
characteristics of the Soviet cinema. 

The first experiments in film construction using strips 
of celluloid as the basic material, which are the foundation 
of Soviet film technique, appear to have been due to Lev 
Kuleshov. He was the director of several productions, 
including On the Red Front, The Death Ray, Expiation, 
and recently made The Gay Canary and 2 Buldi 2, as well 
as being the founder of a school of cinematography. 
Kuleshov tried many experiments in the arrangement of 
pieces of film in different orders, finding that he could 
obtain remarkable effects by the relation, inter-relation, and 
juxtaposition of the various lengths. He logically main- 
tained that in every art there was, first, a material and, 
secondly, a method of composing that material according 
to its nature; further, he determined that in the cinema, 
the material was the film strips of photographic record, and 
the composing was the act of editing, or piecing these strips 
together. His famous experiment with the actor Mosjoukine 
and the plate of soup, the coffin, and the little girl is probably 
too well-known to be repeated. Some time later, Pudovkin, 
who at that time was working on scenarios, became 
interested in the experiments of Kuleshov, and in 1923 they 
formed together a production unit and made The Adven- 
tures of Mr. West Among the Bolsheviki. This was fol- 
lowed later by Pudovkin's film, Chess Fever, in which Jose 

228 



THE SOVIET FILM 

Capablanca was made to appear to play a part merely by 
the cutting and composition of film strips. Thus it is from 
the original experiments of Kuleshov and Pudovkin that 
the modern school of constructive editing and cutting has 
developed. It is of interest to note Pudovkin suggests 
as a probable reason for the progress of editing among the 
Soviet technicians, that in the early days there was a short- 
age of film stock, and that whilst they were unable to find 
fresh film for their cameras, the Soviet technicians had 
ample time to evolve cinematic theories. Not only this, but 
they were forced to utilise what stock they had with the 
greatest care in order to get the best effects, which provided 
a contrast to the chaos and haste so characteristic of the 
studios of Hollywood and Britain at that time. 1 



The directors generally included in the left-wing, or most 
advanced school, of Soviet film production are S. M. 
Eisenstein, V. I. Pudovkin, G. Kozintzev and L. Trauberg, 
Lev Kuleshov, and to a lesser extent, Dovjenko, Turin, and 
Ermler. The work of Eisenstein, who was at one time 
trained as an engineer and an architect, is known by four 
productions. He has particular leanings towards the drama 
and comedy of the Japanese theatre and an immense interest 
in the work of Sigmund Freud. His early experiences were 
varied. He worked in the Russian army as a designer of 
field fortifications; he painted camouflage and propaganda 
on the sides of cattle-trucks and trains; he was employed 
as a designer in the workers' theatre in Moscow ; he joined 
Meierhold, but was unable to agree with him; he studied 
Leonardo da Vinci and the reflexological school of Pavlov 

1 Almost all young technicians employed by John Grierson at the 
E.M.B. Film Unit in Britain in 1929-33 made their introduction to film 
technique by editing film already shot by other directors or cameramen 
for other purposes. In this way, they learnt to appreciate the value of 
celluloid before they were permitted, to take a film shot themselves. 
Subsequent training at some British documentary units has followed this 
disciplinary method, which has done much to inspire respect for the 
materials of the medium. 

229 



THE ACTUAL 

at one and the same time; and he has a fondness for the 
melodramatic thrillers of Eugene Sue. In 1924 he made 
his first mass film, Strike; in 1925, Battleship Potemkin, 
which was originally planned as a section only of a 
larger film, 1905, the latter idea being abandoned and 
the section being shown separately. In 1926, he began 
work on The Old and the New, known also as The General 
Line, but interrupted production in order to make October, 
later called Ten Days that Shook the World, 1 one of the 
several films commissioned by the Government in connec- 
tion with the tenth anniversary celebrations of the Revolu- 
tion. Upon completion of Ten Days that Shook the World, 
he returned to The General Line, finishing it in 1929. In 
all his films he has been assisted by G. V. Alexandrov, with 
Edouard Tisse as his principal cameraman. I find it of 
significance that Tisse was originally employed in news-reel 
work, and thus is admirably suited to Eisenstein's impulsive 
method of working. 

In his first three films, Eisenstein has been interested in 
the representation of the mass mind, in particular the mass 
challenging the established authorities. He has sought to 
express the mind of the people and not of the individual, 
and for this reason his work is to be placed on the epic 
scale. The theme of Battleship Potemkin is familiar. It 
concerned the revolt of the crew of a battleship against 
their officers on account of the'bad food; the warm recep- 
tion of the rebel ship by the townspeople of Odessa; the 
attack on the latter by the local military; and the final 
meeting of the battleship with the remainder of the Russian 
fleet. Ten Days that Shook the World was a representa- 
tion of the events that followed the establishment of the 
Provisional Government in 1917; the flight of Kerensky; 
the attack on the Winter Palace ; and the triumph of Lenin. 

1 As far as can be ascertained, it was the German distributors who 
sought to find more popular titles for Soviet films ; hence October became 
Ten Days that Shook the World (presumably taken from John 
Reed's book of that name), The Heir to Jenghiz Khan became Storm 
Over Asia, and The Old and the New became The General Line. Sub- 
sequent film writers seem to prefer the German titles, and so I have 
changed to them in this revised edition. 

230 



THE SOVIET FILM 

Both of these films were supreme examples of advanced 
cinematography in that they were a synthetic combination 
of the emotional, the documentary and the absolute film. 1 

The intense dynamic vitality that is the keynote of 
Eisenstein's personality is the dominating feature of his 
cinematic expression. His films are unparalleled examples 
of ruthless, throbbing, vigorous direction. With absolute 
faith he remains true to the central aim of his theme. He 
does not seek help from outside sources, from irrelevant 
but symbolic references, as does Pudovkin, in the expression 
of his content. There are no isolated characters, no indi- 
vidual mannerisms or personal developments in his films. 
He works with broad vision, with the central theme of 
revolt as his one tremendous purpose. It was the collective 
spirit of the sailors in Battleship Potemkin and the feelings 
of the mass in Ten Days that Shook the World that gave 
those films their grand, sweeping, awe-inspiring quality. 
Throughout the former, it was the line of guards, the 
twirling parasols, the breadth of the lapping waves, the sails 
of the yachts, the architectural rotation of the steps, the 
flapping of the tent on the quay, the wind under the sheet 
that covered the captive sailors, the mass-suspense of the 
rebel crew as they waited for the fleet, that were significant. 
Similarly in Ten Days that Shook the World, it was the 
gigantic statue which guarded the streets, the architecture 
and chandeliers of the Winter Palace, the floating pamph- 
lets in the river, the banners of the crowd, the rifles of the 
guard, that were the main factors of expression. Added to 
which, Eisenstein has a wonderful sense of pictorial com- 
position and a unique feeling for the constant movement of 
his screen material. The lighting of his scenes is always so 
arranged and contrasted that the images never fail to convey 
their meaning at the first flash. He has, in company with 
Griffith and Abel Gance, an amazing sense of the pure visual 
image, apart from any interest in human character. It is 

1 The reader is referred to Eisenstein's Article, The Fourth Dimension 
in the Kino, published in Close Up (Vol. 6, Nos. 3, 4), in which is 
propounded his theory for the ' ideological film ' and the evolution of 
4 intellectual cinematography '. 

231 



THE ACTUAL 

from his images, expressive only of collective spirit, that 
he constructs his main, vibrating theme. 

Eisenstein is essentially impulsive, spontaneous and 
dramatic in his methods, lie does not work from a detailed 
manuscript like Pudovkin, for he has not the deliberate, 
calculating mind of the latter. He prefers to wait until the 
actual moment of production and then immediately seize 
upon the right elements for the expression of his content. 
It is of note to recall that neither the famous steps sequence 
at Odessa, nor the misty shots of the harbour, were included 
in the original manuscript for Battleship Potemkin; but as 
soon as Eisenstein reached Odessa and found these features, 
he at once expanded his script to include them. He is thus 
a brilliant exception to the theory of complete preconception 
which is dealt w T ith elsewhere in this volume. 

He builds with a remarkable process of cutting, an over- 
lapping of movement from one shot into the next that 
filmically gives double strength to his images. He seldom 
uses images without movement of material, unless it is to 
convey atmosphere (as in the shots of the gods and archi- 
tecture in Ten Days that Shook the World), which he over- 
laps, thus emphasising the content. For example, the 
raising of the bridge in Ten Days that Shook the World, 
with the dead horse and the girl's hair as details, was so 
overlapped and shot from every available angle that the 
actual movement was synthesised into at least a dozen filmic 
movements. It is the insistence so produced that gives the 
work of Eisenstein such extraordinary strength. His films 
can only be described as producing the sensation of 
throbbing, pulsating, and prickling like that of a purring 
piece of machinery. The spectator is conscious solely of 
the insistence, the astonishing urge of expression. These 
are the characteristics of the Eisenstein film that Edmund 
Meisel incorporated in his musical scores for Battleship 
Potemkin and Ten Days that Shook the World, thereby 
rendering the presentation of these films doubly emotional. 
The key to the power of Eisenstein's direction is the relation 
that lies between the cutting and the material content, 

232 



THE SOVIET FILM 

utterly different from the constructive editing of Pudovkin. 
The rhythmic cutting of Eisenstein is governed by the 
physiology of material content, whereas the editing of 
Pudovkin is controlled by the constructive representation of 
the elements of the scene, governed by the psychological 
expression of the content. In the words of Moussinac : 
' tin film d' Eisenstein ressemble a tin cri; tin film de 
Poudovkine evoque un chant/ 

In his most recent work, Eisenstein seems to be divided 
in his outlook, his mass concept being split by the character 
of an individual. Throughout The General Line there was 
a division of interest between the character of Lapkina, the 
peasant girl, and the sociological content of the theme. It 
was, of course, a film definitely created for the purpose of 
instructing the agricultural community, to persuade them to 
adopt modern methods of machinery instead of their 
primitive ways, and from this point of view was probably 
successful. Cinematically, it was of interest in sequence 
construction and the rhythmic placing of titles, as well as in 
the superb beauty of the pictorial compositions. The 
individual types of the peasants, the great stretching shots 
of landscape, of wind, of storm, of clouds, were magnifi- 
cent. The opening was conceived on a vast scale repre- 
senting the immensity of the area of Soviet Russia and its 
millions of illiterate peasants. The whole conception was an 
enormous undertaking, and, taking into allowance the period 
of interruption for the production of Ten Days that Shook 
the World, Eisenstein may be said to have succeeded far 
beyond expectation in his task. 1 

As will have been gathered, Pudovkin is essentially the 
constructive director, perhaps more interested in the method 
of expressing his themes than in the themes themselves. His 
films contain more study, more deliberation, more calcula- 
tion, more esoteric intellectuality than those of Eisenstein. 
Just as the themes of the latter are expressed through the 
collective spirit of people and things, so are Pudovkin's 

1 Cf. Eisenstein's new theories on tonal and overtonal montage, pp. 
108, 109. 

233 



THE ACTUAL 

individual characters expressed through the themes. 
Pudovkin is scientific and analytical in his outlook; the 
builder of a film composition from small pieces, essentially 
psychologically dramatic. He is less spiritual and less 
physical than Eisenstein. He is more methodical and less 
visionary. 

By profession originally a chemical engineer (a fact not 
without significance), he first became interested in cinematic 
representation through the experiments of Kuleshov, as we 
have seen. He has made five films to date, viz., The 
Mechanism of the Brain (1926), in collaboration with the 
professors of Pavlov's laboratory at the Academy of 
Sciences, Leningrad; Chess Fever (1925); Mother, from 
the story by Maxim Gorki (1926) ; The End of St. Peters- 
burg, one of the several films commissioned by the Soviet 
Government in connection with the tenth anniversary cele- 
brations of the Revolution (1927); and Storm over Asia. 
He has also recently worked on a sound film, Life is 
Beautiful. 1 

The key to Pudovkin's direction lay plainly in The 
Mechanism of the Brain, for it gave an exposition of the 
methods which he employs for the selection of his visual 
images, based on an understanding of the working of the 
human mind. But most important of Pudovkin films to date 
was undoubtedly Mother, for in its brilliant realisation were 
found not only the elements of his constructive process, but 
a clue (in the opening scenes) to his future development in 
the phase of non-political cinema. It is to the treatment of 
the opening scenes in Mother that, I understand, Pudovkin 
has returned in the production of Life is Beautiful. In 
Mother, we discovered the scientific method of the decom- 
position of a scene into its ingredients, the choice of the 
most powerful and suggestive, and the rebuilding of the 
scene by filmic representation on the screen. In this respect, 
I recall the sequence of suspense at the gate of the factory; 
the gradual assembly of the workers ; the feeling of uncer- 
tainty as to what was to happen. This was the result of an 

1 Cf . footnote, pp. 106, 564. 

234 




STORM OVER ASIA, directed by V. I. Pudovkin. V. Inkishinov. [Soviet, 1928] 




ARSENAL, directed by Alexander Dovjenko. [Soviet, 1929] 



THE SOVIET FILM 

extraordinarily clever construction of shots and of camera 
set-ups in order to achieve one highly emotional effect. It 
may, perhaps, appear the simplest of methods, the basis of 
all filmic representation, but it needs the creative skill of a 
Pudovkin to extract such dramatic force from a scene. I 
recall, also, the scene with the falling of the clock; the 
discovery of the hidden fire-arms under the floorboards; 
the trial, with the judges drawing horses on their blotting 
pads; the coming of spring; the escape from the prison; 
and the final crescendo ending of the cavalry charge. It is 
impossible to describe the emotional effect of this film. 
Without hesitation, I place it amongst the finest works in 
the history of the cinema. 

The primary weapon in the building of scenes is 
Pudovkin's use of reference by cross-cutting. In Mother, 
there was the constant inclusion of landscape, of nature, 
noticeable in every sequence. It was not symbolic, as with 
the porcelain figures in The Living Corpse, but the sheer 
use of imagery to reinforce drama. The shots of empty 
landscape in the opening; the trees and the lake cut in 
with the boy in prison; the breaking ice, rising by cross- 
cutting to a stupefying climax in reference to the cavalry 
charge. It is this breadth of reference that builds up the 
Pudovkin scene with such force. 

The End of St. Petersburg, although a brilliant example 
of the methods of Pudovkin, had not the intense concentra- 
tion of Mother. It had not the compelling force, the 
contact with reality that made the latter so great. The 
content sought to express the events of the war years, the 
overthrow of the Czarist regime, and the final establish- 
ment of the People's Government. It was, in other words, 
the transition of St. Petersburg to Leningrad. There were 
two subsidiary themes to the main purpose; the coming 
of the peasant boy to the city in search of work, and his 
experience in the war; and the story of the old Bolshevik 
and his wife. Above all was the overwhelming triumph of 
the Soviets. It was an astonishing film, composed with the 
full power of Pudovkin's filmic mind, at once overpowering 

235 



THE ACTUAL 

and convincing. There were many memorable sequences : 
the peasant and his companion looking for work, coming 
to the Palace of Justice, the approach through a maze of 
columns to the base of one great column; the amazing 
scenes of hysteria at the outbreak of war, the fluttering 
banners and flowers; the shots of the war-front cross-cut 
with those of the stock exchange; the attack on the Winter 
Palace. Every sequence was a wonderful example of con- 
struction, of the values of cutting and of dramatic camera 
angles, but the film had neither the unity nor the universal 
understanding of Mother. 

With Storm Over Asia Pudovkin rose to the height of 
his career in some sequences, whilst in others he lost the 
thread of his theme by interest in local environment. The 
whole effect was one of unevenness. In company with the 
two preceding films, it was a masterpiece of filmic con- 
struction, of referential cross-cutting, and of the representa- 
tion of mixed mentalities. It opened with a series of 
landscape shots of distant hills, of small round huts, of 
great storm clouds; and from the distance the spectator 
was taken nearer by approaching shots. The whole of the 
first part up to the visit to the lamaserai was magnificent. 
Thereafter, the theme inclined to wander, to be interested 
in local detail rather than in the significance of that detail. 
There were moments of great power, however, as when the 
British soldier took Bair to be shot ; the witty cross-cutting 
between the scenes of the general's wife dressing and the 
preparation of the lamas for the festival; and the terrific 
storm scenes at the close. These were Pudovkin at his best 
and most emotional, but the film as a whole was broken up 
and over-long. 

As is well known, Pudovkin prefers, whenever possible, 
to work with raw material, building it in terms of filmic 
representation to achieve his desired result. Consequently 
he has filled his pictures with the most remarkable types of 
many nationalities. Storm Over Asia, for example, in its 
scenes of the fur market and the festival of the lamas 
brought material to the screen that had never before been 

236 



THE SOVIET FILM 

photographed. The types were as amazing as those of the 
peasants in Eisenstein's The General Line. Pudovkin has 
been very successful in his results with these naturalistic 
methods till now, and I believe that working on similar lines 
he will achieve even greater success. I am convinced that 
his principles of filmic construction, at once scientific, 
rhythmically structural, philosophic, and analytical, are 
those calculated to achieve the most powerful results. 

To be included also among the advanced Soviet directors 
are two men of the younger school, G. Kozintzev and L. 
Trauberg, who have in collaboration realised several films, 
including S.V.D. {The Union of a Great Cause), The Devil's 
Wheel, The Adventures of an Octoberite, and The Cloak, 
from Gogol. They have, at the expense of their Govern- 
ment, studied film production in Paris and Berlin. Their 
principal interest, however, lies in their recent production, 
New Babylon, a film based on the events of the Paris 
Commune. Unlike other directors of the left-wing, who 
are chiefly concerned with the naturalism of their subject 
content, Kozintzev and Trauberg favour a form of costume 
melodrama, stylised and slightly romantic. For the ex- 
pression of this heroic romanticism, they employ the 
recognised advanced forms of editing and cutting, as 
originated by the theories of Pudovkin and Kuleshov. 
New Babylon, although somewhat loosely composed and 
lacking the closely woven pattern of Pudovkin's early work, 
was conceived and realised with technical skill. The 
environment of the opening, cross-cut from the interior of 
the emporium to the cafe, was well established, as was the 
capture of the guns on the hill. The film suffered princi- 
pally from over-length and a straggling continuity of 
narrative towards the end. It was, however, a progression 
from their earlier work, in particular from S.V.D., which 
was a cloak and sword melodrama set in the Decembrist 
period, about the second decade of the nineteenth century. 
It was notable for its lovely scenes of the military in the 
snow-fields and an ice carnival. The chief merit of the 
direction of these directors lies in their brilliant handling 

237 



THE ACTUAL 

of crowd work, of constant movement among turbulent 
pictorial compositions. 

Of particular interest, also, among the younger school is 
the work of Alexander Dovjenko, one of the directors for 
the Vufkukino, of the Ukraine, who, although not techni- 
cally of the left-wing group, is outstanding for his indivi- 
duality of vision. In many peculiarities, Dovjenko is unique, 
not only in the cinema of Soviet Russia, but in that of the 
world. He has primarily an extraordinary faculty for 
adapting the characteristics of writers and poets as well as 
those of other directors, welding them with personal touches 
into his themes. He has no sense of completeness, little 
conception of a film as a unified whole, but he contrives 
nevertheless to charge his work with ideas that are universal. 
His two films, Zvenigora and Arsenal, were filled with poetic 
mysticism and magic, and were almost supernatural in their 
wild vagueness. He combines the mystical feeling of 
Dostoievski, Hoffmann and Gogol in his ever- wandering 
imagination. His ideas are disjointed and his filmic ex- 
pression is as yet immature, for he has but limited know- 
ledge of the exposition of his imagination in constructive 
cinematic terms. He has, however, a definite sense of the 
devices of the camera, instanced in the slow-motion opening 
to Zvenigora, and the abrupt cessation of material move- 
ment in Arsenal. His mysticism is fascinating. For 
example, in the latter film, a man lit a candle for his ikon ; 
the features of Shevchenko, the national poet, grew dis- 
dainful; he leaned down from his picture and blew out 
the candle in the man's hand. Again, the soldiers were 
racing from the front with a sleigh on which was a coffin ; 
in the village the widow waited beside a grave which was 
already mysteriously dug ; the soldiers urged the horses to 
go faster; one of the animals turned its head and said: 
' All riglit, we are going as fast as we can ! ' But, admirable 
as was the conception of this incident, it was not sufficiently 
effective in cinematic expression. It called for a dozen 
quick flashes of the horses and a title split among them. 

Both Zvenigora and Arsenal were erratic but impulsively 

238 



THE SOVIET FILM 

created with a combined aesthetic and spiritual mysticism. 
Actually, even to the northern Soviets, much of Dovjenko's 
work is unintelligible, for he seeks to express legends and 
folk-lore peculiar to the Ukraine and illogical to a spectator 
unversed in the traditions of the locale. For this reason, 
Zvenigora was poorly received in Moscow and Leningrad, 
and I am informed that much of its curious incident, such 
as the placing of the bomb on the railway lines and the 
extraordinary dream sequence, was only understandable to 
a Ukrainian gifted in local politics. Memorable were the 
scenes of the old man on the grassy hillsides, wrapt in his 
magic visions ; the digging for the imaginary treasure ; the 
poetry of the trees and the slopes ; the enchanting beginning 
of the Cossacks riding in slow-motion ; and the passages in 
the woods with the brigands and the old man's evocations 
of hidden treasure. 

It is my belief that in Dovjenko, Soviet Russia has a 
director of unprecedented vision, of wonderful imagination 
and of rare freedom of mind. If it is possible for him to 
learn through experience the right filmic exposition of his 
astonishing concepts (and he seems on the correct path in 
the use of camera devices), Dovjenko will develop into a 
cinematic artist of unique genius. With the exception of 
the work of Eisenstein and Pudovkin, and Turin's Turksib, 
Dovjenko's two films are the most stimulating and poetic 
yet realised in the U.S.S.R. 1 



In contradistinction to the work of the left-wing 
directors, whose principal interest lies in technical methods 
of construction and expression of content, the characteristic 
of the right-wing is the sociological purpose of their pro- 
ductions. Predominant in this group is Abram Room, who 
is a psychologist director interested in the exposition of the 

1 Vide, Celluloid: The Film To-day (Longmans Green, 1931), the 
chapter on Dovjenko's Earth, pp. 135-153. 

239 



THE ACTUAL 

interplay of emotions between an intimate group of persons. 
He is inclined to approach the narrative situations in his 
films through the reactions of the participants, bringing 
their inner thoughts to the attention of the spectator by a 
careful photographic selection of their small, possibly 
insignificant, outer actions. He suppresses the environ- 
ment of the narrative, except where it can emphasise the 
human relationship, and employs external objects only when 
they are of direct consequence to his characters. It will be 
seen that in this detail, Room is in direct contrast with the 
methods of the left-wing. His direction is extremely simple 
and straightforward, relying almost entirely on the acting 
talents of his cast and narrative material for emotional 
effect. Each of his films has carried a strong sociological 
content, of personal, domestic, and contemporary impor- 
tance. From a psychological point of view, Room seems 
primarily absorbed in the psychological and physical atti- 
tude of men towards women. This was the thematic basis 
of his best-known film, the notorious Bed and Sofa, which 
has met with approval in most countries, though it was 
refused public exhibition in Britain even after certain 
deletions had been effected. It was, however, shown 
privately to the Film Society, London, April 7th, 1929. 

The sociological theme of Bed and Sofa was in sympathy 
with the general movement to raise the social level of 
women by the frank realisation of masculine selfishness. 
Room took the narrative of a husband, his wife, and another 
man, of universal consequence, and placed it in an environ- 
ment of Moscow during the housing shortage problem. 
Out of the peculiar circumstances arising from the nature 
of the environment, he contrived situations that lent them- 
selves to an expression of his motive. He carried the first 
two-thirds of his treatment of the eternal triangle with 
almost perfect direction, until at that point at which a 
decision had to be made in order to carry the moral content, 
he descended to a sentimental and banal motherhood feeling 
on the part of the wife, thereby destroying the intensity of 
the drama, but achieving his sociological motive. More- 

240 



;: .-' 






BBH 



THE GHOST THAT NEVER RETURNS, directed by Abram Room. [Soviet, 1929] 




BED AND SOFA, directed by Abram Room. Vladimir Fogel, Nikolai Batalov. 
[Soviet, 1926] 



THE SOVIET FILM 

over, it was apparent that this sudden discrepancy, pro- 
viding a weak conclusion to an otherwise brilliant film, was 
due to a concession to the policy of the producers, to wit 
the discouragement of abortion in the U.S.S.R. Aestheti- 
cally speaking, it was neither the logical nor natural ending 
for the first two-thirds of the film. Had Bed and Sofa 
been finished from the opposite point of view, I believe that 
it would have been one of the greatest films yet made. The 
mental understanding that controlled the direction of the 
earlier portions was amazing. The emphasis of contrasted 
moods, of space and compression, of sense of humour and 
depression, was conveyed to the spectator with tremendous 
psychological knowledge. There was no gesture, however 
small, on the part of the characters (admirably played by 
Nicolai Batalov, Ludmilla Semyonova, and Vladimir Fogel) 
which had not supreme significance in revealing the inner 
working of their minds. The construction of the situations 
was perfectly contrived, the continuity having a smooth 
fluidity that enveloped the spectator. The balance of the 
scenario and the arrangement of the alternating incidents 
were masterly. Technically, the cutting was so good as to 
be almost unnoticeable. I suggest that, despite the failure 
of the concluding sequences, Bed and Sofa was an un- 
equalled instance of pure psychological, intimate, cinematic 
representation of human character. 

Room's first film, Death Bay, was made a year previously, 
in 1925. It was of interest as the early work of a clever 
director, but was primitive in many respects, lacking the 
construction of Bed and Sofa. It is not worth detailed 
comment being notable chiefly for the sparkling quality of 
the landscape environment in the Black Sea district. He 
has since made The Pits, and The Ghost that Never Returns 
from a story by Henri Barbusse. The former was again 
uneven in texture, certain passages of intense emotional 
feeling between the girl and her lover in her squalid room 
being upset by the propaganda scenes in the workers' club 
and in the children's nurseries, as well as by the enforced 
' glory of motherhood ' motive. From a pictorial point of 

241 16 



THE ACTUAL 

view, some of the scenes in the glass factory where the men 
worked were of great beauty, but the melodramatic ending 
in the workers' theatre was poorly contrived. Once again, 
the spectator experienced the overthrow of what might 
have been a good film by the stressed introduction of 
propaganda, without which the film would never have been 
produced by the Government. It is impossible to ignore 
the purpose of such films, or not to appreciate their aim, but 
while it is understood it is also deplored. 1 From a socio- 
logical point of view, both The Pits and Bed and Sofa were 
probably admirable; but from the cinematic outlook, their 
emphasised moral motive was regrettable. 

In the right-wing group is to be included also the work 
of Olga Preobrashenskaia, whose film The Peasant Women 
of Riazan has been much praised in intelligent film circles. 
Actually, however, when judged by the work of Room or 
the left-wing directors, Preobrashenskaia's direction lacks 
power and insight, although this picture was superior to the 
average American or European output. Olga Preobrashen- 
skaia has three assets : a feeling for movement of material ; 
a deep sense of natural beauty; and an idea of pictorial 
composition. But, as has been pointed out, these qualities 
are to be found in almost every Soviet production. She 
lacks conception and has a leaning towards the theatrical 
both in lighting and in acting, but the principal reason for 
the weakness of The Peasant Women of Riazan was once 
again the sociological propaganda. The concluding scenes 
with the children's welfare home and the ' new spirit ' were 
indifferent. There were certainly passages of great beauty, 
notably those of the waving ear-heads of corn, the scenes 
of the spring festival and the wedding of Ivan and Anna, 
but the film as a whole lacked dramatic value. Several 
other pictures have been made by the same woman director, 
including some for children which she should have done 

1 It is clear that at the time of writing, 1929, I failed to appreciate 
the problems of the Soviet directors in tackling themes of social educa- 
tion, so different from and so much more difficult than the revolutionary 
material of Eisenstein and Pudovkin. Vide: Documentary Film (Faber 
h Faber, 1939), pp. 125 ,126. 

242 



THE SOVIET FILM 

well, and she has recently completed The Last Attraction, a 
circus story, which is again said to be uneven and inferior 
to The Peasant Women of Riazan. 

A further film of the same type was Yevgeni Cherviakov's 
My Son, which began in a maternity hospital and ended in 
an ambulance. It was yet another theme of child welfare 
work, and, according to accounts, the spectator was enter- 
tained by shots of babies eating, washing themselves, and 
sleeping, with a funeral and a ' last-minute-rescue ' as the 
high-spots. 



The virtuosities of Dziga-Vertov and his group of the 
cine-eye have been called the avant-garde of the Soviet 
cinema. Actually, I suggest that, with the possible excep- 
tion of KaufTmann, the group is going round in circles 
without being able to find a way out. Dziga-Vertov has 
instanced his theory of the cine-eye, a theory upon which 
he has based all his films and which the workers of the 
cine-eye group of the Vufku-kino organisation of the 
Ukraine attempt to develop year by year, as follows : 

' ... It is the evening performance at a cinema in a 
little village near Moscow. The local picture-theatre is 
filled with peasants and workmen from the neighbouring 
factory. A film is being shown without musical accom- 
paniment. The only sound that breaks the stillness is the 
whirring machinery of the projector. An express train 
flashes across the screen. Then a little girl appears, 
walking slowly towards the audience. Suddenly, there is 
a startled scream in the house. A woman rushes forward 
towards the image of the little girl on the screen. She 
weeps and clasps a child in her arms. But the image on 
the screen has passed away. A train again flashes across 
the screen. The lights in the house go up. The woman is 
being carried out, for she has become unconscious. " What 
has happened ? " asks a visitor to the workman next to him. 
The latter turns slowly to look at him, and replies, " Ah, 
that, my friend, is the cine-eye. The girl whose image you 

243 



THE ACTUAL 

saw on the screen fell ill some time ago, and recently she 
died. That woman who cried out and ran towards the 
screen, she was the girl's mother. . . ." ' 

The cine-eye group specialise in the progress of what 
they call in Soviet Russia the ' film without joy ', which can 
be associated in a mild way with the documentary picture. 
Briefly, the idea of the cine-eye is the cinematography of 
actual incidents and objects of everyday life. Vertov 
watches human expressions, mannerisms, and small inci- 
dents everywhere, photographing them at their most 
characteristic moments. He has no interest in films acted 
by professional players, which he considers theatrical. The 
method is a scientific, experimental study of the visible 
world. It seeks to collect and to catalogue for our pleasure 
and edification the actualities of contemporary life. It 
sorts out the pertinent from the irrelevant and places it on 
the cinema-screen. 

The object of the cine-eye is to build an international 
language of the cinema. The ordinary cine-fiction film 
already achieves this to a certain extent, but in most cases 
it is a false rendering of fact. A record must be made and 
kept and shown of all that happens around us, apart from 
news matter which is adequately dealt with in the news 
reel. The roving lens of the camera has the power of the 
moving human eye. It can and does go everywhere and 
into everything. It climbs the side of a building and goes 
in through the window; it travels over factories, along 
steel girders, across the road, in and out of trains, up a 
chimney stack, through a park . . into the houses of the 
rich and poor; it stands in the street, whilst cars, trams, 
'buses, carts flash by it on all sides ... it follows this 
person down that alley and meets that one round the 
corner. . . . 

The workers of the cine-eye made their first manifesto 
in 1923, published in a paper called Lef. But before this, 
from 1918 to 1922, Dziga-Vertov worked alone as the 
pioneer and experimenter of the cine-eye, until between 
1923 and 1925 a small group was formed, numbering 

244 



THE SOVIET FILM 

among them Kauffmann (Vertov's brother) and Kopaline. 
Since that date, the output of the group has increased, until 
now it may be said that the cine-eye group of the Vufku- 
kino is at the head of the documentary section of the 
Soviet cinema. The workers of the group rejoice in the 
name of the kinoki, and of their work may be mentioned 
The Struggle under Czarism, The Truth of Lenin, The 
Sixth Part of the World, The Eleventh Year (one of the 
several films commissioned by the Soviet Government in 
connection with the tenth anniversary celebrations of the 
Revolution), The Man With the Movie Camera, Spring, 
and The Cradle. 

The cine-eye makes use of all the particular resources of 
the cinema, of slow-motion, ultra-rapid motion, reversed 
movement, composite and still photography, one turn — one 
picture, divided screen, microscopic lens, etc. It uses all 
the forms of montage in assembling and presenting its facts 
in a coherent order out of the chaos of modern life, and it 
seeks to establish a level of distinction among the thousands 
of phenomena that present themselves on all sides to the 
mind of the cine-director. All this was set down at length 
in a manifesto by Vertov in 1919. 

The whole of the theories of Vertov were summed up in 
The Man With the Movie Camera, which, although a 
fascinating exposition of the resources of the cinema and a 
marvellous example of technical accomplishment, was totally 
devoid of dramatic value. Throughout the film the specta- 
tor was constantly being reminded of the camera, for it was 
continually being brought before the eye on the screen. The 
film was regularly punctuated by the interruption of a 
close-up of the lens of the camera, the camera itself, and 
the eye of the cameraman. We travel along watching a 
cameraman photographing a lady in a carriage. We see 
on the screen what the camera of the cameraman is taking. 
We see the cameraman as the lady in the carriage sees him. 
We are alternately the camera and we see what the camera 
sees; then we are seeing the camera seeing what we saw 
before. At that point, we cease seeing the camera and we 

245 



THE ACTUAL 

see what we have just seen being developed and mounted in 
the studio-laboratory. ' Ah ', we say to ourselves, ' that is 
the cine-eye/ 

Vertov was over-fond of cross-cutting for the purpose 
of comparison. From streets being washed to a girl 
washing herself; from motor-horns to a policeman 
holding up the traffic and back again; from the soft beds 
of the rich to the hard benches in the park ; his cutting was 
generally short and staccato. He was over-inclined to flash 
a series of one-foot shots before the audience and blind 
them. Vertov in practice ran away from Vertov in theory. 

The Eleventh Year was a record of the construction of 
the Ukraine during the ten years of Soviet regime. Its 
theme was man's attempted control over nature; of 
civilisation over the primitive. Where before there was 
waste ground, now there are towns. Water that was use- 
less, now supplies the electricity for hundreds of homes. 
Thus the film went on with mines and pits and chimneys 
and smoke and workers. Kauffmann's picture Spring 
attempted to show the gradual transition from the Russian 
winter to the first signs of spring : the awakening of new 
life. It was admirably photographed and well composed 
into a beautiful pattern of shots. 

With the coming of the sound film, the cine-eye theories 
expand to embrace the cine-radio. The camera becomes 
the ear as well as the eye. The kinoki become the radioki. 
They seek now to express their material in terms of cine- 
eye-sound, in the form of radio- vision. Eventually they 
will come to the simultaneous montage of visual and sound 
facts, sensitive to the touch and capable of being smelled. 

The work of Dziga- Vertov and his confreres is necessarily 
limited. There are bounds to the amount of reality avail- 
able even to his cine-eyes and cine-ears. He cannot, for 
example, record emotional scenes, except when taken out of 
doors and then they must be natural. By rejecting all 
forms of studio work, he sets inevitable barriers to his 
progress. Although from a technical standpoint I have 
full admiration for the pictures of Dziga- Vertov, I am 

246 



THE SOVIET FILM 

convinced that he has been proceeding up a cul-de-sac, and 
that he is already at the end. His last film, The Man With 
the Movie Camera, was a wonderful piece of virtuosity, of 
montage, of material and of cutting, a perfect exposition 
of the cinematic values available to the director, but little 
else. Outside Russia his theories and films are only just 
becoming known, hence their enthusiastic reception by the 
intelligentsia and amateur film groups, but in his own 
country he is not considered to have achieved anything 
since the publication of his early manifestos. He is, in 
fact, rather out of date. 

* 

In Soviet Russia, as in other countries, there are many 
second and third-rate directors whose films, in comparison 
with those of the left and right wings, are not of unusual 
consequence. Their work, however, has met with con- 
siderable approval amongst the film literati, and it is usual 
to find their merits have been largely over-estimated. 
Typical amongst this group I should place such men as 
Georgi Stabavoi, Fiodor Otzep, Boris Barnet, Y. A. 
Protazanov, and Yuri-Tarich. 

Stabavoi works for the Vufku-kino, having realised for 
them The Man in the Forest, Calumny, and Two Days, the 
last being his most important picture. He is a heavy- 
handed, deeply psychological director, capable of utilising 
dramatic situations to some effect, but is not considered of 
much importance by the Russian school. Otzep has made 
three films,, Miss Mend, The Yellow Pass, and, in conjunc- 
tion with Messrs. Prometheus, in Berlin, The Living 
Corpse, from the play by Tolstoi. He was originally well 
known as a scenario writer, being responsible for the manu- 
scripts of The Postmaster, Polikushka, and The Cigarette 
Merchant of Mosselprom. He is not a director of any 
standing, his work being uneven and lacking in dramatic 
quality. The Living Corpse, which was one of the few 
films exemplifying Soviet technique to be generally shown 
in Britain, was of interest principally for the playing of 

247 



THE ACTUAL 

Pudovkin as Fedya Protasov, and for the editing, which 
was in the hands of the latter. It was obviously the product 
of a unit working in unaccustomed surroundings. Barnet 
is a director of comedies, usually of amusing incident and 
notable for an employment of trick effects. Two of his 
comedies have been seen, The Girl with the Band-Box, and 
The House in Trubnaya Square. Both were humorous as 
light entertainment, but not of cinematic importance. The 
latter contained all the elements of slapstick, being a 
burlesque on middle-class life in a block of flats in Moscow. 
There was a delightful Ford car that did tricks, an amusing 
election procession, and some comic theatre scenes. It was, 
moreover, a clever burlesque on many Soviet films. There 
was more than a gentle dig at Eisenstein's crowds and 
Dziga-Vertov's tramcars. Protazanov is a director of 
the old school, in company with Yuri-Tarich, Gardin, 
Dolinov, and Pantelev. He was the director of the big 
Martian fantasy, Aelita, of The Three Thieves, The Man 
from the Restaurant, The White Eagle, and The Forty- 
First, none of which was of more than average merit. 
Yuri-Tarich has made two big spectacle films, Ivan the 
Terrible and Revolt in Kazan. Both were historical 
costume pictures, for the Russian loves his historical film, 
and were excellent pictorially. The list of directors in this 
class could be extended considerably, but their work, as a 
rule, is not worth detailed comment. 

There are, however, three recent Soviet films that 
demand inclusion, The Fragment of an Empire, Prison, 
and Turksib, for their directors, Ermler, Raismann, and 
Turin, will be of future significance. The first is a member 
of a group of experimenters attached to the Leningrad 
Studio of the Sovkino, and The Fragment of an Empire 
was their fifth production. This film was the epitome of 
the Soviet sociological propaganda cinema, realised with 
an extraordinary skill of technical achievement. Its theme 
was the expression of the constructive work accomplished 
in Soviet Russia since the October Revolution, and its aim 
was to sum up the achievement of the workers and to reflect 

248 



THE SOVTET FILM 

the ideals of the modern Government. It contained 
problems of cultural reform, of discipline among the 
workers, of friendship, and of the eternal universal question 
of love and marriage. The film was a complete document 
of the social and political life of contemporary Russia. The 
exterior scenes were taken in various towns, but were 
filmically composed into one great city, Ermler presumably 
desiring to express a universal concept of the newly con- 
structed country. The narrative interest concerned an 
N.C.O., who was wounded and lost his memory in 1917, 
and regained it ten years later. He returned to St. 
Petersburg to discover Leningrad. In place of all that he 
knew in the past, he became involved in the new country 
of the Soviets. From a psychological point of view, the 
direction of Ermler was amazing. The subconscious pro- 
cess of the man's mind, particularly in the return of his 
memory through an association of latent ideas, was por- 
trayed with extraordinary power. From death to emptiness ; 
from emptiness to perplexity; from perplexity to under- 
standing, the changing mental states were subtly revealed. 
As a representation of mental images, of reactions, of sub- 
conscious thought, the film was remarkable. The employ- 
ment of technical resources was admirable; the cutting 
swift and slow in perfect modulation; the pattern closely 
woven. It is undoubtedly the outstanding film of the Soviet 
cinema after the two last productions of Eisenstein and 
Pudovkin. 

Raismann's film of a mutiny in a prison, although less 
interesting than Ermler's compelling picture, was neverthe- 
less a clever piece of cinematography. The opening was 
on a grand scale of clouds and architecture in slow dissolve 
shots, followed by the wind in a Siberian prison, and a 
dramatic escape. There succeeded the life in the prison 
under the new governor, the revolt that failed, the scene 
of prisoners at the church, the governor's party, and the 
release of the prisoners because of the Revolution. It was, 
in fact, the old theme, but directed with a high degree of 
skill, with contrasted lighting and clever cross-cutting. 

249 



THE ACTUAL 

Victor Turin's magnificent film of the building of the 
Turkestan-Siberian Railway was shown during March 
1930, by the London Worker's Film Society. It was 
primarily a remarkable example of the organisation of 
material. The film was divided into parts, each dealing 
with a certain phase of the great undertaking. Thus the 
opening reels expressed the urgent need for the railway in 
order to link up the vast territories of the north and the 
south, showing the difficulties of the old, primitive methods 
of transport and irrigation. These were followed by 
scenes of the first surveyors, the assembly of the materials 
needed for the task, the gradual pushing out of the rail- 
road into the barren wastes, the first giant locomotive to 
make its appearance amongst the camels and horses, the 
triumph of man and machinery over nature, leading up to 
a final crescendo of the promise that the line would be open 
in 1930. The theme was handled with astonishingly skilful 
editing, the audience being worked up to an intense 
emotional crisis by the sheer brilliance of technique. In- 
dividual scenes of strong dramatic value abounded in every 
part, but especial mention may be made of the sand-storm 
in the desert, the coming of the water from the mountains 
to the land below, and the race between the first engine 
and the tribesmen mounted on their ponies and oxen. 



A predominant feature of the Soviet cinema is the wide 
development of the interest picture and travel film for 
educational purposes. There is practically no subject, 
whether scientific, geographical, ethnological, industrial, 
military, naval, aeronautical, or medical which has not 
been approached by Soviet directors. It is quite impossible 
in a short space to give any idea of the vastness to which 
this side of the cinema has attained in the U.S.S.R. I can 
only mention a few films that were outstanding in each 
group, so as to indicate the range of the material covered. 
Firstly, there seems to be almost no essential part of the 

250 



THE SOVIET FILM 

territories of Russia that remains photographically unre- 
corded. There has been a constant succession of production 
units leaving the various studios for the purpose of making 
film expeditions. In this section there was the wonderful 
Pamyr, the film of a joint expedition organised by the 
Leningrad Academy of Sciences and the German 
Notgemeinschaft; The Heart of Asia, taken in Afghani- 
stan ; The Trail of a Meteorite, made in the Siberian 
marshy forests; The Way to India; Sea Warrens, dealing 
with the migration of birds and the vegetation of the 
steppes, during spring and autumn, along the coast country 
of the Black Sea; Comet, a film of Tartar life; The Men 
of the Woods, an expedition into N.W. Siberia; The Rails 
Go Ringing, made by Leontiev in the engine sheds at Tiflis ; 
and many others. Industrial and agricultural sections 
include such films as : The Sunflower Industry, The Fight 
for the Harvest, Chaos and Order, Soviet Fordism, The 
Campaign for a Crop. Medical and hygiene films have 
been plentifully made viz., Ten Years of Soviet Medicine, 
The Morning of a Healthy Man, Mother and Child, 
Malaria, etc. 



It is difficult to write freely about the pre-eminent films 
of the Soviet cinema, for however much one may admire 
their technical excellence and acknowledge their unquestion- 
able superiority over the product of any other film-pro- 
ducing country, it is impossible to ignore their primary 
social, political, and often anti-religious influence. The 
whole exstence of the Soviet cinema has come about through 
the urgent desire to express vividly and with the utmost 
effect the policy of the Soviet Government and the develop- 
ment of the principles of Marxism. Elsewhere in this 
survey I have written that the primary aim of the film at 
the present moment is entertainment. This statement must 
be qualified by the functions of the Soviet cinema, which 
have caused the film to be considered as a dominant factor 
in the social and political organisation of a country. 

251 



VII 

THE GERMAN FILM 

Not long ago, 1 it was general to look to the German 
cinema for the real uses of the film medium. A single Ger- 
man production meant a promised relief from the twenty 
American metallic movies which shouldered its London pre- 
sentation. The simplicity of the German cinema then 
indicated that the intelligence and artistry, the creative 
imagination and craftsmanship, so essential to the pro- 
duction of a unified work of art, lay in the studios of 
Neubabelsburg and Staaken. It became customary to be- 
lieve that a film coming from a German studio, made by a 
German director, cameraman, architect, and actors would 
be of a certain interest. During that period of the German 
cinema which culminated in The Last Laugh and Tartuffe, 
this was the truth. So far as was known at that time, the 
Germans were the only producers of imaginative films in 
the world, with the exception, perhaps, of a few isolated 
examples of the early French school and the beautiful 
pictures of the Swedes. Germany was wise in that she put 
her best talent into the creation of a film industry subsidised 
by the Government ; but she reckoned without the influence 
of the American movie. The Germans were unable to 
realise that few people of intelligence and good taste ever 
went to the cinema. We know that the general public had 
become saturated with the artificiality of the Hollywood 
movie. It was quite unable to cope with the meaning that 
the serious-minded Germans contained in their films. The 
public had little, if any, experience of the cinema as a 
means of dramatic expression. They were shocked at and 
did not fully comprehend the sombre, darkly-lit, intensely 
powerful German film. They knew nothing of psychology, 
1 The middle twenties. 

252 



THE GERMAN FILM 

of decorative beauty, and of the intrinsic reality of the 
cinema. They continued to show interest in the Holly- 
wood movie. 

The German film flourished awhile, sparkled with indi- 
vidual efforts, developed technical resources to a pitch of 
perfection and brought new filmic conceptions to light on 
the support of her own audiences and those of France and 
Europe. But the German film languished for want of 
wider world support. The ideas of these films were con- 
ceived on a grand scale, demanding large finance for their 
realisation, but the returns were small. The real German 
film died quietly. Many of its creators went to Hollywood, 
while those who remained joined with fresh commercialised 
minds in the complete reorganisation of their industry on 
American principles. Hollywood took interest in her rival, 
nourished her, but stole her talent. The German cinema 
became American in its outlook and its characteristics 
became imitative of Hollywood. 1 

The films which the Germans produced in the years fol- 
lowing the war were no more widely saleable outside their 
own country than those of the Swedes and the French. The 
position of the German film industry was founded upon an 
uneconomic basis. It must be recalled that film production 
in Europe was grievously hampered by the lack of sufficient 
financial resources; whereas America was preposterously 
wealthy. Whilst money was the last worry of Hollywood 
producers, in Germany (as later in Britain) it was the 
first. The German Government, realising that the showing 
of her films abroad would bring about advertisement after 
her ignominious war defeat, helped the industry with whole- 
hearted support. It induced the Deutsches Bank to finance 
the biggest company, the Universum Film, A.G. (known to 
the world as Ufa), and then brought into play the 
Kontingent law, which drastically required every German 
distributor to buy one home production for every American 

1 The reader is referred throughout this chapter to Dr. Siegfried 
Kracauer's psychological history of the German film, From Caligari to 
Hitler (Princeton University Press, 1947). 

253 



THE ACTUAL 

film he handled. This ruling certainly encouraged the pro- 
duction in the studios, although it meant, on the other hand, 
that there was a chance of quality being flouted by quantity. 
But despite this subsidy, the German cinema continued to 
flounder, constantly becoming bankrupt, borrowing money 
from American firms, and taking twice the scheduled time 
to make a film. Interchange of studio personnel and 
players was adopted freely in order to keep the trend of 
production international. Many British and French stars 
were better known in Germany than in England. Recently, 
German directors have been working in British studios, 
failing to understand British temperament and trying to 
intermix German psychology with British bourgeois un- 
intelligence. British firms produced in Germany but, even 
with the technical resources available, failed to justify their 
existence. All along there has been a slavish imitation of 
American methods. Germany finds it difficult now to pro- 
duce a film that is characteristically German. 



In surveying the German cinema from the end of the first 
World War until the coming of the American dialogue film, 
the output may roughly be divided into three groups. 
Firstly, the theatrical costume pictures; secondly, the big 
middle period of the studio art films; and thirdly, the 
decline of the German film in order to fall into line with the 
American ' picture-sense ' output. These three periods 
naturally overlap one another, and there have been isolated 
exceptions to the general trend. Such distinguished films 
as The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari, The Student of Prague, 
Vanina, The Last Laugh, and the films of G. W. Pabst, 
stand apart from the general run of production, in certain 
cases being advance examples of the type of film to come. 

The easily recognisable characteristics of the earlier 
German films were their feeling for studio representation, 
for simplicity of story and treatment, for a consciousness of 
camera fluidity, and for a dramatic, psychological under- 
standing of events. The German film was born and bred 

254 



THE GERMAN FILM 

in an atmosphere of studio structure, for seldom did the 
German director go outside for his exterior material. The 
outstanding feature of all the greater of the early German 
films was their decorative sense of architecture. At an 
elementary stage in their cinematic development, the 
Germans revealed a strong and not unwanted tendency 
towards filmic craftsmanship. An instance of this is the 
perfection to which German cameramen have taken the 
technical qualities of their photography. It was in Ger- 
many that the camera was first freed from its tripod, that 
it was first given the movement and life of a human being. 
But although they used their camera to its full capacity, 
the Germans still largely retained their studio-mind, 
approaching at times the artificiality of the theatre. They 
seemed unable to accept the possibility of the free spirit 
of the cinema, which is so important in later Soviet and 
French productions. Germany was unable to produce an 
En Rade or a Battleship Potemkin, but she did bring to 
the screen The Student of Prague and The Last Laugh. 
There is little doubt, however, that the studio-mind, with 
its love of craftsmanship and structural work, imposed 
limitations on the choice of theme and treatment, re- 
strictions that have damaged the recent films of Erich 
Pommer : Nina Petrovna, Homecoming, and Asphalt. 
While it is admitted that studio architecture is absolutely 
necessary for certain exterior settings, which cannot 
be achieved on actual location (such as the creation of 
special streets and landscapes), nevertheless this artificiality 
is in opposition to the real aim of the cinema. Material 
that serves for filmic creation in the process of con- 
structional editing has need to be the nearest approach to 
actuality, if not actuality itself. 

The German film has contributed many valuable 
attributes to the cinema of the world. From the studio 
film there has been learnt the complete subordination of 
acting material, revealed so well in The Student of Prague; 
the pre-organisation of studio floor-work, including the 
composite set which allows for the taking of scenes in their 

255 



THE ACTUAL 

correct sequence 1 ; the unification of light, setting, and 
acting material (the central part of Tartuffe, and The Last 
Laugh); and the freedom of the camera as an instrument 
of expression, assuming the status of an observer and not 
of a spectator. The German cinema has taught discipline 
and organisation, without which no film can be produced as 
a unified whole. 

The importance of the realisation of The Cabinet of 
Doctor Caligari has already been dwelt upon at some 
length. To reiterate, it was the first significant attempt 
at the expression of a creative mind in the new medium 
of cinematography. It broke with realism on the screen; 
it suggested that a film, instead of being a reality, might be 
a possible reality; and it brought into play the mental 
psychology of the audience. There has been a tendency of 
late to look back with disdain at the theatrical character 
of Wiene's film. It has been objected that The Cabinet of 
Doctor Caligari, in its structural co-ordination of light, 
design, and players, in its cubist-expressionist architecture, 
was pure stage presentation. It needs but little intelligence 
to utter this profound criticism, but it must be realised that 
The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari was produced under extra- 
ordinary circumstances. It is simple to look back now and 
diagnose the crudities of Wiene's work, with the most 
recent progress of the Soviet film and the American ' com- 
pound ' cinema fresh in mind, but in 1919 all theory of the 
cinema was extremely raw. It is only through such 
experiments as that of Wiene, Warning Shadows, The 
Street, and The Last Laugh, that advance has been at all 
possible. The narrow-minded film critics of to-day blind 
themselves to the traditional development of the cinema. 
They seize upon Dziga-Vertov and deny the existence of 
Carl Dreyer ; they saturate their minds with the sound film 
and forget the intrinsic structure of visual images. It has 
been said that the admirers of The Cabinet of Doctor 
Caligari are usually painters, or people who think and 
remember graphically. This is a mistaken conception, for 

1 See description, pp. 184, 185, of composite set used in Hotel Imperial, 

256 




THE GOLEM, directed by Henrik Galeen. Paul Wegener, Albert Steinruck. 
[German, 1920] 




DRAGULA (NOSFERATU), directed by F. W. Murnau. Max Schreck. 
[German, 1922] 



THE GERMAN FILM 

the true cineasie must see and realise the importance of its 
realisation as well as that of La Passion de Jeanne a 1 ' Arc, 
The Last Laugh, Tol'able David, Finis Terrae, Jeanne Ney, 
and Tnrksib. Each of these films is related, each overlaps 
in its filmic exposition of thought. It is absurd to deny 
their existence on the grounds of theatricalism, expres- 
sionism, individualism, or naturalism. Without the 
creation of The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari, much that is 
admired in the cinema of to-day would be non-existent. It 
bore in it a suggestion of the fantasy that was to be the 
prominent characteristic of the art film. Some short time 
later, Kobe's Torgus, or The Coffin Maker, again with 
expressionist architecture, was another indication of the 
mystical fantasy which was to be the underlying motive of 
Warning Shadows, The Student of Prague, Waxworks, 
and others of a similar type. 

The essence of the middle period German film was sim- 
plicity of story value and of actional interest that eventually 
led to a completeness of realisation fulfilled in The Last 
Laugh. Many of the themes were simple experiments in film 
psychology. Karl Game's The Street was a reduction of 
facts to the main development of one character during a 
short period of time. It obtained its mood by the co- 
ordination of light and camera psychology rather than by 
the acting, which was crude and mannered. Arthur 
Robison's Warning Shadows was again a simplification of 
detail, a centralisation of incident into small units of space 
and time, decorated by a fantastic touch. Waxworks was 
yet another example. Nearly all these films contained the 
fantastic element. They were seldom wholly tragic or 
wholly comic. They were often melodramatic, as in the 
case of Doctor Mabuse. 

Earlier than this middle period of simplicity and fantasy, 
there had been a wholesale production of theatrical costume 
films that made use of the German's natural love for spec- 
tacle and the property room. These served as a foundation 
for the stylised school of German film acting. At all 
periods of the German cinema, the actors have exerted a 

257 17 



THE ACTUAL 

stabilising influence on the fluctuation of the various types 
of films. Their restraining presence helped towards the 
establishment of the film as a whole. One recalls, in this 
respect, the numerous films of Conrad Veidt, Emil 
Jannings, Alfred Abel, Werner Krauss, Bernard Goetzke, 
Julius Falkenstein, Albert Steinriick, Alexander Granach, 
Asta Nielson, Henny Porten, Lydia Potechina, etc., in 
which the actors themselves steadied, and even in some 
cases dominated the direction. 

With the German feeling for studio-craftsmanship came 
the decorative architecture and freedom of camerawork 
that were brought to a head in the big production of Faust, 
foreshadowed by Lang's Destiny and Siegfried, Robison's 
Warning Shadows, Murnau's Tartnffe, and Ludwig 
Berger's Cinderella. The decorative setting, based on 
traditional design with modern fantastic motives, played a 
large part in the German middle period. These fantastic 
productions began and ended with themselves. They 
carried no universal meaning, as did Karl Grune's The 
Street or At the Edge of the World. To this completeness, 
already partially achieved by the maturity of the traditional 
acting material, the splendid settings of Walther Rohrig, 
Robert Herlth, Otto Hunte, Erich Kettlehut, Karl Voll- 
brecht, Albin Grau, Rudolph Bamberger, Herman Warm, 
and others, added a final binding force. Their plastic 
columns, bulging mouldings, great flat expanses, simply 
decorated architecture formed an admirable background, 
never obtruding, for the acting material and simplicity of 
treatment of the period. It is of the utmost importance to 
grasp the significant part played by the architect and de- 
signer in the development of the German cinema. Indeed, 
it may be said without detriment to their directors, that two 
thirds of the aesthetic success of Warning Shadozvs, Sieg- 
fried, and Cinderella lay in their design. The first part of 
the Nibelungen Saga has never been equalled for sheer deco- 
rative beauty; the complete charm of Cinderella came from 
the decoration of Rudolph Bamberger. Destiny, The 
Golem, Sumurun, and Waxworks were equally superb in 

258 



THE GERMAN FILM 

their creative architecture. This natural feeling for 
decoration, for simple but rich design, in the Diireresque 
and Baroque styles, was the real basis of the German 
studio-mind. Even in films of a popular type this wonder- 
ful sense for good design was prevalent. Unlike other 
countries, the experimentalists in the German cinema were 
able to embody their revolutionary ideas in films of general 
practicability. There was almost no German avant-garde 
school at that time, for the most advanced filmic intelli- 
gences were working in the commercial studios. This 
accounted to a large extent for the superior aesthetic value 
of the German film in relation to the rest of the world's 
output. 

Towards the gradual decline of the decorative film, 
brought about by its own inbreeding, there arose a new 
type of cinema, less fantastic and more in touch with reality, 
but incorporating even more strongly the psychology of 
human emotions in the thematic narrative. This new form 
had been heralded to some extent by the appearance, in 
1922, of von Gerlach's Vanina, adapted from Stendhal, 
with Asta Nielson, Paul Wegener, and Paul Hartmann. In 
consideration of its date, Vanina was unique in its un- 
German feeling for fluidity of thematic conception. Vanina 
had breadth and space outside the customary studioisms of 
the period. Three years later there came The Last Laugh, 
which, as has been stated earlier, laid down the elementary 
principles of filmic continuity. It was, perhaps, an un- 
equalled example of the co-ordination of production per- 
sonnel. Murnau, Freund, Mayer, and Jannings worked 
collectively to produce a film that was a complete realisation 
in itself. 1 It expressed a simple, universal theme, unrelieved 
by incidental detail and cross purposes. It was a centralisa- 
tion of environment, of setting, of atmosphere, of players, 
to one dominating purpose. It had a plastic fluidity that 
was made possible by a titleless continuity. It had a com- 

1 Carl Mayer actually wrote The Last Laugh for Lupu Pick to act 
and direct, and expressed himself to me as never wholly happy with 
Jannings' performance, 

259 



THE ACTUAL 

pleteness that for once was achieved by the architecture of 
the studio. It was the final outcome of the German crafts- 
man's studio-mind. In the same year, as well as The Last 
Laugh, there was to come Dupont and Pommer's celebrated 
Vaudeville, Grune's The Two Brothers, Lupu Pick's The 
Wild Duck and New Year's Eve, and Pabst's The Joyless 
Street. With the exception of the last, these were all films 
with moral themes, close to the reality of modern life, 
treated with a new technique of moving camerawork and 
unusual angle of viewpoint. Vaudeville was, of course, 
the outstanding film that staggered the American producing 
companies when shown to them in the States. It was 
Vaudeville that took Pommer, Dupont, and Jannings to 
Hollywood. 

Speaking broadly, for there are several notable excep- 
tions, the German film entered into a decline after that 
date. The new productions, having lost the spirit and 
craftsmanship of the best German period (from 1921 to 
1925) were constructed along the box-office lines of the 
American cinema. They were in the nature of a reaction 
from the work of the highest filmic intelligences in Europe 
at that time, because Soviet Russia was then but an un- 
known quantity, experimenting with theatrical pictures. 
There followed for some years a great number of second 
and third-rate German movies made to supply the Kontin- 
gent law, directed by such men as Richard Eichberg, Joe 
May, and Willi Wolff, with players like Harry Liedtke, 
Paul Richter, Mady Christians, Ellen Richter, Harry Halm, 
Liane Haid, Willy Fritsch, Lia Maria, Lilian Harvey, Jack 
Trevor, and Jenny Jugo. Many of these did not reach 
Britain, which only imported the best of the German out- 
put, but even from those which did it was obvious that they 
were lacking in the inventiveness of mind and originality 
of conception that had distinguished the earlier productions. 

During recent years there has been an increased com- 
mercial co-operation between Germany and other European 
film-producing countries. The technical studio organisation 
of the German film industry was realised to be the most 

260 



THE GERMAN FILM 

efficient in Europe, if not in the world, and both Britain 
and France interchanged production units with Germany. 
Many foreign firms were anxious to combine in joint pro- 
ductions realised by German technical resources. These 
pictures were an attempt to rival the constant flood of 
American picture-sense movies. Amid this heterogeneous 
mass of German films, however, there were still several 
individual works by pre-eminent directors who retained 
some intelligent interest in the cinema. Fritz Lang's 
Metropolis and The Spy; G. W. Pabst's Secrets of the 
Soul and Jearine Ney; Fritz Wendhausen's Out of the 
Mist; the films of Elizabeth Bergner's Poetic Film Com- 
pany, Donna Juana and The Violinist of Florence; and 
Walther Ruttmann's Berlin, were evidence that there still 
remained progressive cineastes in Germany. 

But generally speaking, German film production was 
rapidly becoming like that of Hollywood in external 
appearances. Many of the big pictures of 1928, for 
example, might have been the product of American studios. 
They were made for an international market, and little of 
the old German feeling for psychology and simplicity of 
treatment remained. Erich Pommer, on returning from 
Hollywood, attempted to combine the merits of the old 
German school with a new outlook of international picture- 
sense. Of his four pictures recently produced, Nina 
Petrovna and Homecoming were of better quality than the 
average American or German movie. They were not, I 
admit, good films in the sense that they were masterpieces 
of filmic expression, but they contained certain aspects of 
camerawork and architecture that were reminiscent of past 
achievements. There has been a tendency also towards the 
filming of melodramatic thrillers, light and artificial in 
story value, but constructed with a great deal of technical 
skill. Of such may be mentioned Fritz Lang's excellent 
The Spy, perhaps one of the best pictures of its kind; and 
Tourjanski's Manolescu. Pabst's Jeanne Ney, also, was 
melodramatic in action. There have also been a number 
of good, middle-class comedies made, of general entertain- 

261 



THE ACTUAL 

ment value, such as The Bold Sea Rover (in Britain, 
Hurrah! I'm Alive), with that delightful comedian, 
Nikolai Kolin, and Love's Sacrifice, a light, polished 
picture of youth fulness, directed with admirable skill by 
Hans Schwartz. The old fondness for the spectacular 
historical film, which seems ever present on the Continent, 
has resulted in the large but quite unconvincing production 
of Waterloo, directed by Karl Grune, originally a simplist 
director; the same director's ill-conceived Marquis d'Eon; 
the sensational and theatrical film of Martin Luther (which 
revealed clearly the fallacy of the pageant picture) ; Ludwig 
Berger's version of The Meister singers, a late example of 
the studio-mind; and Schinderhannes, made by the young 
director, Kurt Bernhardt. 

The problem of the sound and dialogue film came to 
Germany in much the same disastrous way in which it 
stupefied France and Britain. For some time, German 
producing companies and directors stood aside to watch the 
procedure of events, until from month to month they issued 
announcements of forthcoming sound films. At the time 
of writing, no German film with mechanical reproduction 
of dialogue has reached this country, but several units are 
at work on productions. The situation of sound recording 
has been rendered difficult in Germany by reason of a 
patent war that exists between the Western Electric 
Company of America and the Klangfilm-Tobis-Siemen Co. 
of Germany, a conflict that alternates in victories and losses. 
The necessity of making bi-lingual dialogue films in Ger- 
man and English will assuredly place the production of 
intelligent films in a precarious position, for the Germans 
must needs meet the foreign market demands. So long as 
dialogue films are supplied by America, Germany must also 
adapt herself to their production, which is yet another step 
away from the German film of national characteristics. 



I have not the space at command to analyse in full the 
work of Germany's many directors, but some notes may be 

262 



THE GERMAN FILM 

written on the characteristics and techniques of her most 
significant rcgisseurs. 

I complain elsewhere that Pabst is theoretically the great 
director, but that he has failed to justify fully his immense 
reputation since his second and sixth films, The Joyless 
Street and Jeanne Ney. Although this is adverse criticism 
of a director who has given many instances of his rare 
knowledge of the probing power of the camera, neverthe- 
less, I feel that there is a general tendency to over-estimate 
any and every instance of Pabst's undoubted ability. But 
Pabst at his best, unhampered by limitations, uncut save 
by himself, is perhaps the one genius of the film outside 
Soviet Russia, approached, though in an entirely different 
manner, by Carl Dreyer, Chaplin, and Rene Clair. Both 
aesthetically and technically, his work is of the first 
importance in the European cinema. Investigation of his 
methods is difficult, complex, and hard to express in words. 
Pabst possesses a power of penetration into the deepest 
cells of human behaviour, and succeeds in psychologically 
representing the traits of his characters by filmic exposi- 
tion. He is principally concerned with the development and 
understanding of the intricacies of the minds of his 
characters, and lays open their mentality by employing 
every resource available to the medium in which he works. 
It has been written in criticism that Pabst delights in the 
sheer use of technical accomplishment, as if he were simply 
a Monta Bell or a Mai St. Clair, but no more unwarranted 
statement has been made since the beginning of film 
journalism. It is impossible to witness the showing of a 
film by Pabst without marvelling at his unerring choice of 
camera angle for the expression of mood, or his employ- 
ment of the moving camera to heighten tension. Pabst, 
probably far more than any other director (outside the 
Soviet cinema), understands the complete value of his 
instruments. Jeanne Ney has already been cited as a 
superb example of the uses of the camera as a means of 
dramatic expression; Crisis, although not revealing Pabst 
to full advantage (I have only seen the cut British ver- 

263 



THE ACTUAL 

sion), was exceptionally interesting in its use of reverse 
shots and camera mobility. 

Before he became interested in the cinema, G. W. Pabst 
was engaged in the theatre, and it was not until 1924 that 
he opened his film career with The Treasure. This was 
followed by the tempestuous and badly received The Joyless 
Street in 1925. Since that date he has made eight films, 
Don't Play With Love, Secrets of the Soul, Jeanne Ney, 
Crisis, The Box of Pandora, The White Hell of Pitz Palii, 
and The Diary of a Lost Girl. Of these, the two last named 
have not at the time of writing been shown in Britain, 
where the work of this remarkable director is not generally 
known. 

The troubled history of The Joyless Street (see pp. 
86, 87) has already been given, but the film which caused 
this extraordinary reception has not yet been described. It 
seems simple enough to write that The Joyless Street suc- 
ceeded in showing the devastation that war conditions 
wreaked on the inhabitants of a small dark street in post- 
war Vienna, for there have been so many films which have 
dealt with similar circumstances. But with the genius of 
Pabst this film was different, for it tore away the American 
glamour, destroyed the romanticism, and exposed the stark 
reality of hunger and passion under distorted conditions. 
No film or novel has so truthfully recorded the despair of 
defeat, and the false values of social life that arise after 
war, as The Joyless Street. With unerring psychology by 
which he caused the smallest actions of his characters to 
convey meaning, Pabst brought to his picture moments of 
searing pain of mental anguish, of sheer unblemished 
beauty. His extreme powers of truthfulness, of the under- 
standing of reality, of the vital meaning of hunger, love, 
lust, selfishness and greed, rendered this extraordinary film 
convincing. Like Greed, its significance went below the 
artificial surface of everyday life, turning up the deepest 
emotions. It was, perhaps, too true for the entertainment 
of the masses. Like Greed, it was too real, too devastating 
in its truth. It is recorded that Pabst himself once said, 

264 




"V 



THE LOVES OF JEANNE NEY, directed by G. W. Pabst. Edith Jehanne. 
[German, 1927] 




„„„,>"'■:.■>-, • 
VAUDEVILLE, directed by E. A. Dupont. Emil Jannings. [German, 1925] 



NIBELUNGEN SAGA: SIEGFRIED, directed by Fritz Lang. [German, 1923-24] 




WAXWORKS, directed by Paul Leni. [German, 1924] 



THE GERMAN FILM 

' What need is there for romantic treatment? Real life is 
too romantic and too ghastly.' Mention has already been 
made of Greta Garbo in this film, for it is by this that one 
theorises on her beauty and ability. In Hollywood, this 
splendid woman has been wantonly distorted into a symbol 
of eroticism. But Greta Garbo, by reason of the sym- 
pathetic understanding of Pabst, brought a quality of 
loveliness into her playing as the professor's elder daughter. 
Her frail beauty, cold as an ice flower warmed by the sun, 
stood secure in the starving city of Vienna, untouched by 
the vice and lust that dwelt in the dark little street. Not 
only Greta Garbo, but the other players in this film were 
fascinating. I recall Asta Nielson, superb as the woman 
who murdered for her lover, slowly realising the horror of 
her action, her eyes expressing the innermost feeling of her 
heart; Valeska Gert, the blatant, avaricious woman, who, 
under the thin guise of a milliner, kept the house patronised 
by the nouveaux -riches ; Werner Krauss, the sleek-haired, 
wax-moustached butcher, secure in his pandering to the 
wealthy, with the great white dog at his side ; Jaro Furth, 
the intellectual Councillor Rumfort, unable to understand 
the new conditions; Robert Garrison, the vulgar little 
speculator; and the others, Agnes Esterhazy, Henry 
Stuart, and Einar Hanson. When re-seen quite lately, the 
technique and technical qualities of The Joyless Street 
seemed faded (it was made in 1925), but the vital force of 
Pabst's direction was still present. 

Of Pabst's psycho-analytical film, Secrets of the Soul, I 
can write but indifferently, for the copy reluctantly shown 
in Britain was badly mutilated in order to meet censor 
requirements; insomuch that its continuity straggled, gaps 
and interruptions that could not possibly have occurred in 
the original copy being painfully apparent. It had little 
story to relate, but was a simple demonstration of the theory 
of psycho-analysis. It was, for those sufficiently interested, 
a key to the working of Pabst himself. From the doctor's 
treatment of the patient with the knife-complex, and from 
the dream sequence, it was possible to discern the manner 

265 



THE ACTUAL 

in which Pabst himself dissects his film characters. The 
picture was beautifully photographed, and was of interest 
for the scene when Werner Krauss recalled his thoughts 
and actions of the previous day, the incidents being isolated 
from their local surroundings and placed against a white 
background. 

It took several years for the value of The Joyless Street 
to be appreciated, but when Jeanne Ney made its dramatic 
appearance in 1928, there were those who were eager to 
receive this new film by Pabst. It was, it is true, badly 
mutilated in Britain, and actually presented by the British 
renters, Wardour, under the fantastic title of Lusts 
of the Flesh. Jeanne Ney, which was based on the novel 
by Ilya Ehrenburg, was produced by Ufa, in Berlin, and 
apparently Pabst had difficulty in making the film in his 
own way. It was the time when the Americanisation of 
the German studios was in progress, and Pabst was told 
to make the picture ' in the American style '. Fortunately, 
Pabst had courage, and in Jeanne Ney he made a more 
subtle, a swifter, less tragic, and more dynamic film than 
The Joyless Street. At first glance, Jeanne Ney was a 
melodramatic spy story of communists, adventurers, a 
typist, a blind girl, with a murder and a diamond robbery. 
It is curious, at this point, to remark that all the stories 
chosen by Pabst are melodramatic, almost novelettish in 
incident. The Joyless Street was adapted from a serial 
story by Hugo Bettauer, in the Vienna Neue Freie Presse, 
and the narrative incident of Crisis was not much better. 
Instead, however, of this being detrimental, it proves only 
too conclusively how important is filmic treatment in rela- 
tion to story value. The interest of Jeanne Ney was not 
in its actional incident, but in the individuals concerned, 
their thoughts, emotions and reasons for behaving as they 
did. From the superb opening sequence of the orgy, 
beginning with a close-up of the emigre's shabby boots, and 
the camera slipping away and tracking into every corner, 
Jeanne Ney developed from sequence to sequence with 
breath-taking power. Mood succeeded mood, each perfect 

266 



THE GERMAN FILM 

in its tension and its understanding. The shooting of the 
consul, Jeanne's father, the restless curtains caused by the 
draught from the opening door, the quick-cut reverse shots ; 
the inimitable, likable kindness of the smiling Communist 
attache, with his kippers, and the wan smile of Jeanne; the 
parting in the drenching rain, the mud, the anguish of the 
farewell, the stark trees ; the superbly conveyed atmosphere 
of the detective bureau, the types of the sleuth hounds, the 
dislike of Jeanne for her new work; the reunion of the 
boy and Jeanne, in the warm sunlight walking through the 
poor streets of Paris, the flowers, the sheer beauty of love 
and youth; the brilliant scene where little bald-headed 
Raymond Ney counts his imaginary money, the murder; 
the tremendous scene between the blind girl and the 
murderer ; the hotel, its sordid shabbiness overcome by the 
love of Jeanne, the peace of their night, unsoiled by the 
contagious atmosphere of the house. . . . 

The cutting of Jeanne Ney was executed with such skill 
that it seemed unnoticeable. Every cut was made on actual 
movement, so that at the end of one shot somebody was 
moving, and at the beginning of the next shot the action 
was continued. The eye was thus absorbed in the move- 
ment and the actual transposition from one shot to another 
became unnoticeable. Instinctively one recalled the over- 
lapping cutting of Battleship Potemkin, and realised 
the similar aims of Eisenstein and Pabst in this respect. 
For this reason it will at once be seen how disastrous can 
be the effect of the censor's scissors. Pabst cut Jeanne Ney 
to a definite length ; every shot had its place and meaning. 
The removal of only a few feet of such a film damages its 
balance, design, and emotional effect. 

The photography of Jeanne Ney, by Fritz Arno Wagner, 
has been remarked on elsewhere, and it is sufficient to add 
that technically, for smoothness of panning and travelling 
shots, and for perfectly natural light values, it has never 
been surpassed. At Pabst's will, Wagner's camera nosed 
into the corners and ran with the players; photographed 
from below eye-level and down stairways; yet not once 

267 



THE ACTUAL 

was the instrument misused. Every curve, every angle, 
every approach of the lens was controlled by the material 
that it photographed for the expression of mood. Sadness, 
joy, uplift, depression, exuberance, fear, morbidness, 
delight, were achieved by the position and mobility of the 
camera. Its viewpoints were regulated by the logic of the 
action. Jeanne Ney was a unified individual work. From 
start to finish it was conceived, controlled, and created by 
one sensitive but dominant mind — Pabst. 

As a film, after the brilliance of Jeanne Ney, Crisis was 
a disappointment. As the expression of the character of a 
woman, a single individual, it was of passing interest. The 
story was a conventional plot of a misunderstood marriage; 
many of the same type have been manufactured in Holly- 
wood. It is understood that once again the British version 
was considerably cut, whilst in Germany, Pabst refused to 
put his name to the production because of the editing. The 
film, as shown in this country, lacked stimulus. The direc- 
tion again revealed Pabst' s technical brilliancy for angles 
and pictorial composition, occasional moments rising to 
heights of intensity. The wife's hysterical collapse in the 
night club; the discovery of her brooding husband when she 
returned home; the vicious undercurrents of atmosphere 
that lay behind the cabaret scenes ; these were handled with 
a technique that was equal to The Joyless Street. The centre 
of interest, however, was the compelling fascination of 
Brigitte Helm's Myra. Pabst was the first director to 
reveal the rare side to this actress, a quality that was not 
apparent in A Daughter of Destiny, Metropolis, At the 
Edge of the World, V Argent, and her other pictures.' In 
Jeanne Ney, Pabst was interested in the playing of Brigitte 
Helm as the blind girl. In Crisis, he came absorbed in the 
personality of Miss Helm herself. He succeeded in making 
her every movement exciting. Her strange latent power 
and underlying neurosis were here given their freedom. 
Her vibrant beauty, her mesh of gold hair, her slender, 
supple figure were caught and photographed from every 
angle. The intensity of her changing moods, her repression 

268 



THE GERMAN FILM 

and resentment, her bitterness and cynicism, her final pas- 
sionate breakdown in the Argentine club; these were con- 
structed into a filmic representation of overwhelming 
psychological power. Pabst analysed and dissected the 
remarkable character of Miss Helm and built up out of the 
pieces a unified, plastic personality. Her curious, fascinating 
power has never been exploited with such skill. Gustav 
Diessl, as the husband, was beyond reproach, his whole out- 
look being enhanced by the low-level camera angles; while 
Hertha von Walther, as the dissipated girl friend, was 
strangely moving, her attractive smile at once understanding 
and scornful. 

In each of his films, with the sole exception of the psycho- 
analytical essay, The Secrets of the Soul, Pabst has been 
concerned with some aspect of the character of women. 
His stories have been but a framework of incident on which 
to wind the theme of feminine character development. 
Every woman of Pabst's synthetic creation has had a 
curious, unnameable and hopelessly indefinable quality about 
her. He seems, in the building up of their filmic personali- 
ties, to be able to bring to the surface the vital forces of 
their being. Each actress employed in the films of Pabst 
assumes a new quality, not actually but filmically. He con- 
trives by some unknown force to invest his characters with 
a quality of intense feeling, with strangely complex sexual 
or mental significance. In each of his succeeding films, he 
has sought more and more to express the motives that lie 
behind a woman's impulsive thoughts and actions. He 
appears to have the power of discovering a hidden quality 
in an actress, whatever her career may have been before she 
came under his direction. Like Greta Garbo — Asta Nielson, 
Edith Jehanne, Brigitte Helm, Hertha von Walther, and 
Louise Brooks are almost ordinary when appearing in other 
films under other directors. But Pabst has an under- 
standing, an appreciation of the intelligence, that builds the 
actual personality into a magnetic, filmic being. 

It was, it seems, this hidden quality, this deeper, hitherto 
uninvestigated, side of feminine character that induced 

26? 



THE ACTUAL 

Pabst to choose, after long searching, Louise Brooks to 
play Lulu in Pandora's Box. Lulu was the theme of 
Wedekind's two tragedies, Erdgeist and Die Biichse 
der Pandora, one being the sequel to the other, around 
which Pabst built his concept. Lulu was the final essence 
of the sexual impulse of woman; charged to the fullest 
extent with physical consciousness. The spring of her life 
was the attempted satisfaction of this insatiable impulse, and 
the power of man was the possible means of that satisfac- 
tion. She loved spasmodically, but with the strongest sen- 
suality, until, sickening of her exhausted companion, he was 
indifferently destroyed. She was unable, moreover, to 
comprehend the ruthlessness of her devastation in her 
search for sexual satisfaction. She loved for the moment 
the man to whom she surrendered her body, but that love 
died like a flash when his exhaustion was complete. Her 
sentiment was hardened by the monotonous recurrence of 
the events which she had caused. She remained untouched 
by the death of her masculine stimulants. She had no 
interest in the vastness of life save sexuality and its 
accompaniments. She was childlike in her centralisation of 
material purpose. She was the essence of youth, with the 
eyes of a child, beautiful in appearance, and utterly 
attractive in manner. Her ultimate and only possible 
ending was her destruction by the passions which she 
aroused, killed by the lust-murderer, Jack-the-Ripper, in 
London. 

In Louise Brooks, known to the public only by her 
American work (The American Venus, Evening Clothes, 
The Canary Murder Case), Pabst believed that he saw the 
hidden quality that could be filmically synthesised into 
Lulu. His judgement must undoubtedly, in view of his 
career, have been careful, but he failed to realise that in 
the transference of Lulu from the stage to the silent screen, 
he was to lose a link that vitally connected the external Lulu 
to her inner self. Wedekind caused Lulu to become a 
possible reality by the contrast of her outward appearance 
to the hard, naive, passionate sentences that she spoke. By 

270 



THE GERMAN FILM 

reason of her unaffected utterances in combination with 
her innocent appearance, Lulu became the essence of 
woman, the despoiler. In brief, Lulu was an impossible 
reality without the speech that Wedekind gave her. In the 
medium of the film these words were absent; Lulu became 
vacant and unconvincing, even under the direction of Pabst. 
The audience was unable to connect the appearance of Lulu 
with the magnetism that attracted men to her. The mistake 
lay in the visual representation of a literary figure. It was 
an attempt, basically at fault, to translate into a medium 
of visual images a character that was originally expressed 
by literature. It was an attempt that proved conclusively the 
difference that lies between two entirely different forms of 
expression. A character can be, and has been built many 
times by visual images. So also has a character been formed 
by the use of words and sentences. The latter may, per- 
haps, serve as the inspiration for the former, but never can 
one be transcribed in terms of the other. Pabst conceived 
Lulu as a literary concept, living possibly in his imagina- 
tion, but failed to express that concept filmically. It will be 
immediately suggested that the speech so vital to the exposi- 
tion of Lulu might have well been supplied by the mechani- 
cal reproduction of dialogue. Such a consideration is 
worthless, since by reason of its aesthetic impossibility it 
would have only added a further load to the imperfections 
of the cinema. Thus, having taken into consideration the 
basic fault of Pandora's Box, we may be permitted once 
more to admire the excellence of the cutting, of the use of 
detail, of the chosen angles; of the introduction of the fog 
at the end of the film to emphasise the increasing thematic 
tension as the character of Lulu approached its fulfilment; 
of the unfolding of the incident in seven essential scenes, 
each built with clever montage. 1 

Neither of Pabst's last two pictures has been generally 



1 The 'specially arranged' British copy was a travesty, for the whole 
meaning of the picture as well as its technical qualities were destroyed. 
The significant part played by Alice Roberts in the German version 
was omitted. 

Z7X 



THE ACTUAL 

seen. The one, The White Hell of Pitz Palu, with its 
series of mountaineering catastrophes, is set in the Alps; 
the other, The Diary of a Lost Girl, concerns the revolt of 
a number of girls against the rigid rules of a reformatory. 
Both are stated to be notable for the camerawork of Sepp 
Allgeier, and they both have settings designed by Erno 
Metzner, who made Ueberfall. The former film is co- 
directed by Arnold Fanck and Pabst; the first-named 
director being remembered for his beautifully photographed 
mountain film, The Wrath of the Gods. 

There is a tendency, obscure but nevertheless real, to 
regard Fritz Lang as a more intelligent Rex Ingram. 
They are both expert showmen. But whereas Ingram's 
faculty seldom rises above a certain level of Hollywood 
picture-sense, Lang has definitely produced work that is of 
value. Destiny, Siegfried, and Metropolis were sufficient 
evidence of the fertility of his imagination and his sense of 
decorative design. Lang is further to be admired for his 
bigness of outlook and his power of broad visualisation. 
Both Metropolis and The Woman in the Moon were magni- 
ficently big cinematic conceptions, realised with every 
technical perfection of the cinema. It is impossible not to 
admire Fritz Lang in this respect. On the other hand, one 
regrets his entire lack of filmic detail, of the play of human 
emotions, of the intimacy which is so peculiar a property 
of the film. Only on rare occasions, notably in the tea- 
party scene between Gerda Maurus and Willy Fritsch in 
The Spy, has Lang revealed interest in human beings as 
such. As a rule, his characters are meaningless men and 
women, (heroes, heroines, and villains) swept hither and 
thither by the magnitude of his conception. And yet he has 
an instinctive feeling for types, for there is seldom an 
individual part in his films that is not distinctive. 

Lang is accustomed to utilise the best film technicians in 
Germany for his vast studio conceptions. Karl Hoffman, 
Freund, Fritz Arno Wagner, Gunther Rittau, the camera- 
men; and Otto Hunte, Erich Kettlehut, Oscar Werndorff, 
Karl Vollbrecht, the architects, have all worked in Lang's 

111 



. y\- : 





DESTINY, directed by Fritz Lang. [German, 1921 





METROPOLIS,, directed by Fritz Lang. Rudolf Klein-Rogge, Brigitte Helm. 
[German, 1925-26] 



THE GERMAN FILM 

production unit. All Lang's scenarios have been conceived 
and written in collaboration with his wife, Thea von 
Harbou. 

Both Destiny and Siegfried were supreme examples of 
the German art film. They were entirely studio-made, and 
in each the decorative value of the architecture was the 
binding force of the realisation. They were fantastic in 
that they were concepts of the imagination; they were 
decorative in that they employed a series of visual images, 
designed in black and white and intervening tones of grey, 
in a two-dimensional pattern. For sheer pictorial beauty of 
structural architecture, Siegfried has seldom been equalled 
because no company could afford to spend money as did 
Decla-Bioskop in 1922-23. l No expense can have been 
withheld on that extraordinary production, but in compari- 
son with the cost, little money could have been made in 
return. Siegfried was far from being pure film, far from 
the naturalism of the Soviets or the individualism of Pabst, 
but it was restrained, simplified pageantry, rendered with 
a minimum of decoration to gain the maximum of massed 
effect. Who can ever forget the tall, dark forests; the 
birch glade, bespattered with flowers where Siegfried was 
slain; the procession of Gunther's court, seen distantly 
through the mail-clad legs of the sentinels; the calm, silent 
atmosphere of the castle rooms, with their simple heraldic 
decoration; and above all, the dream of the hawks, a con- 
ception by Ruttmann, mentioned at an earlier stage? 
Destiny, also, was finely created, using every contemporary 
resource of trick photography and illusionary setting. Un- 
like Siegfried, which was a straightforward narration of 
story, Destiny was an interplaited theme of three stories, 
' The Three Lights ', each connected symbolically with the 
main modern theme of the two lovers. The film was mag- 
nificently conceived and realised ; played with unforgettable 
acting by Bernard Goetzke as Death the Stranger, Lil 
Dagover as the Girl, and Walther Janssen as the Boy. It 

1 Who, in 1929, could have foreseen the luxury allowed Pascal by 
J. Arthur Rank in Caesar and Cleopatra? 

273 18 



THE ACTUAL 

was a production that has been too soon forgotten and 
deserves revival. 

Lang has made also two melodramatic thrillers of spies, 
gamblers, disguises, crooks, and police. Doctor Mabuse, 
the Gambler, was produced in 1922 ; The Spy, an improved 
version on the same lines, in 1927-28. In its original form, 
Doctor Mabase was over seventeen thousand feet in length, 
and was issued both in Germany and in Britain in two 
parts. It was the first German film to reach this country 
(about the same time as Lubitsch's Dubarry, renamed 
Passion) and was regarded as remarkable in film technique 
by the American-influenced minds of British audiences. 
The story was of the usual feuilleton type, with murders, a 
Sidney Street defence of Mabuse's house against the police 
and the army, and fainting women, with a strong spell of 
hypnotism and psycho-analysis. The action, unlike Lang's 
other work, was rapid in pace and startling in incident, and 
was therefore preferred by some critics to his slow-moving 
pageant films. In certain respects it was interesting also as 
linking the pre-war long shot and chase elements with the 
tentative methods of the newer school. Six years later, 
Lang repeated his success twofold in The Spy, a story riot 
unlike Doctor Mabase of an international crook, with secret 
papers, a railway smash, complex disguises, and another 
final street battle. It was all splendid entertainment, 
superbly done. It was quick moving, thrilling, and melo- 
dramatic. Lang used again as his criminal genius the 
versatile Rudolf Klein-Rogge, who improved on his early 
Mabuse part. Technically, the production was brilliantly 
efficient, notably in Wagner's wonderful camerawork. In 
minor incidental effect, Lang had pilfered from far and 
wide. An excellent scene on diagonal steel-girder stair- 
cases looked as if it was taken from a Soviet film, but his 
' plagiarism ' was justified. 

Of Metropolis, more wilful abuse has been written than 
praise, partly because the version shown in Britain was 
unhappily edited, many sequences being deliberately re- 
moved. The British copy was ' arranged ' by Channing 

274 



THE GERMAN FILM 

Pollock, author of The Fool. The film, when it made its 
London appearance, was not enthusiastically received. 
H. G. Wells, amongst others, damned it as * quite the 
silliest film . . .' As a matter of fact, Metropolis was very 
remarkable, based on a brilliant filmic conception. Had 
it been shown in it's entirety, it might have afforded a won- 
derful exposition of cinematography. As with all of the 
German studio-films, the dominant keynote of the picture 
was its amazing architecture. It is not until we compare 
Metropolis with a British picture on the same lines, 
Maurice Elvey's High Treason, that it is possible to realise 
its value. There is not one member of the production units 
or executive committees, not one critic or film journalist 
in this country, who can afford to sneer at Fritz Lang's 
conception. High Treason, with its arts-and-crafts design 
by Andrew Mazzei, revealed only too clearly how poorly 
Britain produces a film of this kind. Though neither a 
great film, nor an example of pure filmic expression, 
Metropolis contained scenes that for their grandeur and 
strength have never been equalled either by Britain or 
America. Who, for example, could have handled the 
sequence when Rotwang transfers life and the likeness of 
human form into the steel figure with such brilliant feeling 
as Fritz Lang? Metropolis, with its rows of rectangular 
windows, its slow-treading workers, its great geometric 
buildings, its contrasted light and shade, its massed masses, 
its machinery, was a considerable achievement. Its actual 
story value was negligible; the architecture was the story 
in itself. Larig's recent production, The Woman in the 
Moon, a film purporting to show the journey of a rocket to 
the moon and the adventures of the crew there, has not yet 
been shown in London. From its still-photographs and 
conception, it appears to be quite as remarkable as Lang's 
other productions. 

It is easy, perhaps, to call Fritz Lang a showman, 
but he is to be reckoned also as a director of decided film 
intelligence, of broad views, of rare imagination, of artistic 
feeling, who is not afraid to put his amazing conceptions 

275 



THE ACTUAL 

into practical form, using every technical resource of the 
studio to do so. Lang is to be admired and studied for his 
courage and self-confidence. He has not, it is true, any 
knowledge of constructive editing in the Soviet sense, 
but he has initiative and a sense of bigness. His work is 
primarily architectural, essentially the product of the film 
studio. 1 

The names of Paul Czinner and Elizabeth Bergner are 
closely associated. 2 Until recently, when Czinner came 
to Elstree to direct Pola Negri, they have been interested 
in the productions of Elizabeth Bergner's Poetic Film 
Company. Czinner and Bergner's first film, however, was 
Nju, for the Rimax Film Company in 1924, in which the 
two other parts were played by Emil Jannings and Conrad 
Veidt. It has not been generally shown in this country. 
Nju was the essence of story simplification, of contrasted 
human emotions without irrelevant matter. Jannings was 
convincing as the humbly-married office-man, childishly 
innocent and delightfully in love with his wife. She was 
attracted by the smart young man. She was found out; a 
dramatic scene; she left the husband. The young man 
refused her and she threw herself into the river. The 
husband followed, not understanding. The young man 
stood alone in the room where the wife had been; the old 
charwoman swept round him with her broom. He went out. 

There was something extraordinary about this film; an 
indescribable atmosphere of emptiness, of fatality. Eliza- 
beth Bergner, Jannings, and Veidt simply stood about; 
Czinner caught the interplay of their thoughts. There 
was little attempt to tell a story; one felt that it just 
happened, and was recorded as it happened. It was 
marred only by the final child-interest. Nju left a 
feeling, rare in the usual completeness of a German 
film, that things would still go on. It was an incident that 
would be left behind by the lover and the husband in the 

1 Cf. Celluloid: The Film To-day (Longmans Green, 1931), The Films 
of Fritz Lang, pp. 227-238. 

2 They are, of course, married. 

276 



THE GERMAN FILM 

continuation of their lives. It had a feeling similar to that 
evoked by the last shot in Vaudeville, the wide open prison 
gates and the sky. 

The second Paul Czinner-Elizabeth Bergner film was 
The Violinist of Florence, made for Ufa, (released in 
Britain under the ludicrous title of Impetuous Youth), 
and was outstanding for its lyrical beauty and poetic grace. 
It revealed an Elizabeth Bergner utterly unlike the Bergner 
of Nju; a small, elf-like child, with queer, wide-open eyes, 
watching and wondering; a child whose subtle emotions 
were revealed by Czinner' s tenderness. Czinner began this 
film by presenting the reactions of the child to her father 
(superbly played by Conrad Veidt) and to her stepmother; 
a tangled mass of human emotions sorted out by the 
brilliant psychological direction. With the deepest interest 
one followed this child's thoughts; the scene of the flowers 
at the dinner-table; the mixing of the drinks; the scene 
at the boarding-school when she received the letter from 
her father; her joyous attempts to cross the frontier when 
she ran away from school; her wanderings in the hills, 
the cattle by the roadside — all this was most beautifully 
and sincerely done. Suddenly, about this point, the film 
achieved sheer Elizabethan cross-dressing comedy. Renee 
was mistaken for a boy and taken to Florence by an artist 
and his sister. Admittedly, in themselves, these latter 
sequences were delightful, but they were isolated from 
Czinner's opening and the main body of the film. It has 
even been suggested that they might have been a portion 
of another film, so different was their feeling. Neverthe- 
less, despite this inconsistency, The Violinist of Florence 
deserved more appreciation than it was accorded. The 
third Czinner production, Donna Juanna, made for the 
newly- formed Elizabeth Bergner Poetic Film Company (in 
association with Ufa for distribution), was a light, romantic 
costume film, adapted from some old Spanish sketches by 
Tirso de Molina. Following the cross-dressing motive of 
the last portion of The Violinist of Florence, this film was 
typically Shakespearean, Elizabeth Bergner playing a sort 

277 



THE ACTUAL 

of Viola role, fighting a duel with her lover, and so forth. 
The poetic atmosphere of Spain, exquisitely photographed 
by Karl Freund, pervaded this new work of Czinner, which 
was wholly charming in both conception and realisation. 
Miss Bergner was again supported by Walter Rilla, who 
played in the former film, and by the delightful Erna 
Morena. Following Donna Juana, Czinner directed his 
own adaptation of Honore Balzac's Duchcsse de Langeais, 
for the Phcebus Film Company, renaming it L'Histoire des 
Treize. Bergner again played the lead, whilst Hans 
Rehman and Agnes Esterhazy supported her. Once more 
Czinner revealed his skill in direction, although as a 
whole the film was not of equal value to the earlier produc- 
tions. Before coming to the Elstree studios to direct Pola 
Negri for the Whitaker production unit, Czinner made a 
version of Arthur Schnitzler's Fraulein Else, his last film 
with Elizabeth Bergner. This, like Donna Juanna and 
L'Histoire des Treize, has not been shown in Britain. 
Czinner may be reckoned as a director of considerable 
distinction, quite un-German in character, who, like Pabst, 
has an interest in natural individuals. His touch is light, 
fragile, and essentially poetic. 

Much has already been written regarding the work of 
Murnau. Of his earlier films, Phantom, adapted from 
Hauptmann's story, and the pirated version of Bram 
Stoker's Dracula are known. The latter, produced in 1922, 
was possibly crude in its melodramatic acting, but never- 
theless it contained much of considerable interest. There 
was a very definite feeling for camera angle in the establish- 
ment of a macabre mood, and effective use was made of 
projected negative and one-turn — one-picture camera 
devices for the suggestion of eerieness. Fritz Arno 
Wagner's camerawork was notably good, particularly a 
scene of frightened horses in the twilight and the close-ups 
of the architecture of the Count's castle. Murnau's The 
Last Laugh has been discussed earlier, and his Tartuffe, a 
production by the same team, is memorable for its superb 
simplicity. The scenario was again by Carl Mayer; the 

278 



THE GERMAN FILM 

camerawork by Karl Freund; and the architecture by 
Walter Rohrig and Robert Herlth. 

From the acting standpoint Tartuffe was a remarkable ex- 
ample of harmonious talent, typical of German completeness. 
The spectator felt that there was an underlying current of 
humour running throughout each sequence, a humour that 
was not without its vital dramatic moments. One recalls the 
crystal tear of Elmire that fell like a liquid pearl on the 
miniature of Orgon, the relationship of the figures one to 
another; the symbolic black figure of Tartuffe, with sil- 
houetted thin ankles and clumsy square-toed shoes ; the ex- 
quisite subtle beauty of Elmire, with curled wig, fragile 
dress, and gentle mien. Clever contrast was made between 
the closely held Bible of Tartuffe, its minute size symbolic 
of his hypocritical nature, and the open frankness of Orgon. 
Tartuffe constituted Jannings' third portrayal of comedy 
(former occasions being in Waxzvorks, in the final part of 
The Last Laugh, and later, of course, in Faust). It is diffi- 
cult to forget Tartuffe descending the curved staircase — 
Tartuffe espying the image of Orgon's reflection in the tea- 
pot — Tartuffe listening, watching, suspicious, leaning on the 
handrail. The Elmire of Lil Dagover was fragrantly beauti- 
ful. I recollect her seduction of Tartuffe on the first occasion ; 
her very gestures were fragile. Werner Krauss was as good 
as he can at times be bad. His portrayal of Orgon was all that 
was necessary, and was probably one of his best film parts. 

The atmosphere that surrounded the characters enveloped 
the spectator. It was an atmosphere of simplification, of 
graceful curves, and wonderful detail of plaster and iron- 
work. There was no customary over-decoration. Un- 
necessary detail was eliminated to the better effect of the 
mass. I remember the beauty of the lace neglige in the 
final bedroom scene; the pattern of the bed covering; the 
porcelain clock on the fireplace; the reality of the square- 
toed shoes; the emphasis given to them in the scene of the 
hammock (a touch of genius); the design of Orgon's ring, 
and a hundred other points. All these were in perfect 
harmony, perfect taste, and of the highest tone. Every 

279 



THE ACTUAL 

detail and every mass was the result of creative fore- 
thought. It was this tone that was spread over the whole. 
No matter where the characters moved or how they 
gestured, the composition remained perfect. Moliere, 
Watteau, Boucher, and the French engravers of the 
eighteenth century were embodied in the spirit of this film, 
which was only marred by the unnecessary modern pro- 
logue and epilogue. 

Murnau' s last film in Germany, before he accepted the 
Fox contract in Hollywood, was a realisation of Faust. 
This film may again be taken as a consummate example of 
German craftsmanship. Every detail, every mass, every 
contrast of light and shade, emphasised the medieval 
atmosphere. Mention will be made later of Murnau' s use 
of the art of Diirer and of Bruegel in his psychological 
establishment of the period. Again, Karl Freund's photo- 
graphy was superb, and the production was a notable 
instance not only of trick camerawork but of the Scheufftan 
process of illusionary architecture. The Mephisto of 
Jannings was completely delightful, the essence of refined, 
subtle humour, of mischievous trickery and inimitable 
devilry; the Marguerite of Camilla Horn, pure and flower- 
like; the Faust of Gosta Ekman, a Swedish actor, 
thoroughly competent; whilst Yvette Guilberr/s playing as 
Marguerite's aunt was an ever-memorable piece of sheer 
artistry. The drinking scene between Jannings and Yvette 
Guilbert stands as one of the finest sequences of humour 
in the history of the screen. That such an artist as Murnau 
should have gone to Hollywood to devote his filmic, philo- 
sophic mind to such banalities as Sunrise and The Four 
Devils is infinitely regrettable. 

In the two architectural productions of Murnau, Tartu ffe 
and Faust, his direction was closely bound up with the 
design of Walter Rohrig and Robert Herlth, the acting of 
Jannings and the camera craftsmanship of Karl Freund. In 
the same way, the four outstanding films by Dr. Ludwig 
Berger — Cinderella, A Glass of Water, The Waltz Dream, 
and The Burning Heart — were the realisation of the 

280 



mfc;;. 




WARNING SHADOWS, directed by Arthur Robison. Ruth Weyher. [German, 1922^ 




CINDERELLA, directed by Ludwig Berger. [German, 1923] 



VANINA, directed by Arthur von Gerlach. [German, 1922] 




THE STUDENT OF PRAGUE, directed by Henrik Galeen. Conrad Veidt. 
[German, 1926] 



THE GERMAN FILM 

Ludwig Berger — Rudolph Bamberger team of workers. 
Bamberger was also the designer to Berger's version 
of the Meistersingers, The Master of Nilrnburg, a Phoebus 
production, with Rudolph Rittner, Max Gulstorss, Gustav 
Frohlich, Julius Falkenstein and Elsa Wagner in the cast. 
It is by Cinderella, however, that Ludwig Berger is best 
known. Made in 1923, when the German cinema was at 
the height of its middle and best period, Cinderella was a 
film of the most beautiful fantasy, delicately conceived and 
realised with a perfection of decorative pictorialism. The 
touch of Ludwig Berger seemed magical, so completely 
entrancing was the subtle fabrication of this exquisite work. 
Bamberger, for his design, centred his theme around the 
charm of Southern Baroque art, making full use of the 
plastic moulding in which the German studio workers seem 
to excel. Technically, the ' magic ' in this film was brilliantly 
accomplished, for it was essentially cinematic. It was 
curious to note that Berger's design of pictorial composition 
was nearly always symmetrical throughout this picture — 
for he obviously centred his movement of acting material 
round a feature of the architectural composition. Thus it 
was observed that doorways, windows, gateways, alleyways, 
etc., were always set in the centre of the screen, the 
remainder of the composition moving around them. In the 
same year, Ludwig Berger made A Glass of Water, a film 
that nominally concerned Queen Anne of England, but 
actually there was no idea of historical accuracy for that 
would have been antagonistic to the decorative motive as 
well as to the environment of the picture. Once more 
Rudolph Bamberger's setting was in the spirit of South 
German baroque, whilst Helga Thomas, Mady Christians, 
and Lucie Hoflich were again in the cast, with Rudolph 
Rittner and Hans Brausewetter. Although not realised 
with the charm of Cinderella, this film was nevertheless 
pleasing, tending perhaps to overlength. Berger's later 
picture The Walts Dream, made in 1926, was one of the 
few German films to meet with success in America. It 
ran in New York for several weeks, appreciated by 

281 



THE ACTUAL 

American audiences as ' something different \ Actually, it 
was a charming comedy — as one would expect from 
Berger — sentimental and harmless, but not to be compared 
with the earlier Cinderella. Again, Mady Christians 
played with graceful comedy, supported by Willy Fritsch, 
who was at that time practically unknown, whilst the soft 
photography of Werner Brandes and the subdued richness 
of the Bamberger settings contributed to the atmosphere 
which Berger sought to realise. This director has made 
yet another German picture with Mady Christians and 
Bamberger, The Burning Heart, which has recently been 
synchronised, whilst in Hollywood he has directed The 
Sins of the Fathers with Emil Jannings, and a version of 
the operetta, The Vagabond King. 

The name of Arthur Robison is at once associated with 
Warning Shadows, a film that by now is well known to 
all familiar with the development of the cinema. Actually, 
the credit for this unique work should be given equally to 
all the production unit, to Fritz Arno Wagner, the camera- 
man; to Albin Grau, the architect; and to Dr. Robison; 
as well as to the brilliant playing of Fritz Kortner, Gustav 
von Wangenheim, Ferdinand von Alten, Fritz Rasp, Max 
Gulstorss, Alexander Granach, and Ruth Weyher. The 
film was made without the use of titles, save at the opening 
for the introduction of the characters, but several quite 
ridiculous and totally discordant captions were inserted for 
its British presentation. At the time of production, in 
1922, Warning Shadows was a remarkable achievement. 
Its purely psychological direction, its definite completeness 
of time and action, its intimate ensemble were new attri- 
butes of the cinema. It was a rare instance of complete 
filmic unity, with the possible exception of the unnecessary 
roof-garden scene. The continuity of theme, the smooth 
development from one sequence into another, the gradual 
realisation of the thoughts of the characters, were flaw- 
lessly presented. It carried an air of romance, of fantasy, 
of tragedy. Every filmic property for the expression of 
mood, for the creation of atmosphere, that was known at 

282 



THE GERMAN FILM 

the time was used with imagination and intelligence. Its 
supreme value as an example of unity of purpose, of time, 
of place, of theme cannot be over-estimated. Of Dr. 
Robison's other pictures, mention need be made only of 
Manon Lescaut (1927), Looping the Loop (1928) and his 
recently completed work, The Informer, for British Inter- 
national Pictures of Elstree. For the production of Manon 
Lescaut, faithfully adapted from the immortal romance 
of the Abbe Prevost, Robison had the advantage of the 
design of Paul Leni, better known as a director. The acting 
material was well chosen, no easy task with a costume 
picture of this type, the Manon of Lya de Putti and the 
Chevalier des Grieux of Vladimir Gaiderov being admir- 
able, whilst the supporting cast, particularly Siegfried Arno, 
Frieda Richard, and Lydia Potechina, were exceptionally 
competent. Robison succeeded in establishing an air of 
intimacy, of dramatic relationship between one character 
and another, of the deep passion that linked the two lovers, 
by a continual use of close-ups. The decorations of Leni 
gave to the film a reality that is lacking in the vast majority 
of costume pictures. His tendency to continue scenes 
through doorways and along passages lent a depth that 
prevented artificiality, a customary characteristic of such 
productions. The costumes, designed with a wealth of 
accurate detail that was fully revealed by the close penetra- 
tion of the camera, were more faithful to their period, both 
in cut and wear, than any others that have been seen in 
historical film reconstruction. On the other hand, Looping 
the Loop, a curious contrast to Robison's earlier work, was 
a circus film — an environment which was popular at the 
time. It was not of especial interest, being a straight- 
forward rendering of the usual circus story; a clown with 
a broken heart, a girl's flirtations, and an unscrupulous 
philanderer. The photography of Karl Hoffman was good ; 
the settings of Walter Rohrig and Herlth consistent; and 
the acting of Werner Krauss as accomplished as usual. In 
brief, the production unit was worthy of better material. 
I have been given to understand, however, that the original 

283 



THE ACTUAL 

negative was destroyed by fire and that the copy generally 
exhibited was made from an assembly of left-over ' takes \ 
Of Robison's British picture, The Informer, Liam 
O'Flaherty's story of gunmen and betrayal, it is hard to 
write, for although it obviously contained the elements of 
an excellent film, the silent version shown to the public was 
so badly edited that little of Robison's technique could be 
appreciated. In order to meet market requirements at the 
time, a version with added dialogue sequences was 
presented, but this does not enter into consideration. 

Karl Grune has made one outstanding film, The Street, 
and a number of others that will be forgotten in the course 
of time. Made in 1923, Grune' s The Street was again 
typical of the German studio-mind. Its chief value lay in 
its unity of theme, its creation of mood by contrasted inten- 
sities and movements of light, and its simplicity of treat- 
ment. Apart from these significant features, it was acted 
with deplorable melodrama, and its studio structure setting 
was hardly convincing. Nevertheless, for its few moments 
of filmic intensity, such as the celebrated moving shadow 
scene in the opening and the cleverly handled game of cards, 
it must rank as important. Grune's other films include The 
Two Brothers, with Conrad Veidt in a dual role ; Arabella, 
with Fritz Rasp; Jealousy, with Werner Krauss and Lya 
de Putti; At the Edge of the World, an unconvincing 
pacifist theme, distinguished only for the settings by A. D. 
Neppach and the playing of Brigitte Helm; Marquis d'Eon, 
a depressing historical film, with Liane Haid badly miscast 
as the chevalier, notable only for the camera craftsmanship 
of Fritz Arno Wagner; The Youth of Queen Louise, a 
Terra production with Mady Christians; and Waterloo, 
the Emelka tenth anniversary spectacle film, badly staged 
at great expense, foolishly theatrical and lacking convic- 
tion. Karl Grune may have made The Street, but he has 
failed as yet to develop the cinematic tendencies displayed 
as long ago as 1923, becoming a director of the commercial 
type. The same may be said of Robert Wiene, who will, 
of course, long be remembered as the director of The 

284 



THE GERMAN FILM 

Cabinet of Doctor Caligari, but who, since that achieve- 
ment, has done little to add to his laurels. 1 Raskolnikov, 
made in 1923 from Dostoievsky Crime and Punishment 
with a band of the Russian Moscow Art Players, was an 
essay in the same vein as The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari, 
but less successful. The following year, Wiene made The 
Hands of Orlac, with Conrad Veidt, for the Pan Film 
Company of Austria; a singularly dreary, melodramatic 
film, interesting only because of a few tense moments of 
Veidt's acting, and some cleverly contrasted lighting. 
Weine has also made, in direct contrast to these heavy and 
slow productions, a light version of the opera Rosen- 
kavalier, & delicate film of little lasting value. 

Henrik Galeen is yet another director who has to his 
credit but one pre-eminent realisation, The Student of 
Prague. Galeen was first associated with the cinema as a 
scenarist, having been connected in this capacity with Paul 
Leni's Waxworks, Wegener's The Golem, and Murnau's 
Dracula. It will have been noticed by those interested in 
films of the past, that very frequently it is difficult to 
discern who exactly was responsible for the merits and 
demerits. Galeen, for example, probably had a great deal 
more to do with The Golem than the scenario, and similarly 
the complete production unit of The Student of Prague, 
including Herman Warm, Gunther Krampf, and Erich 
Nitzschmann, all well-known technicians, should receive 
credit. This remarkable film, almost un-German in its 
realisation, stands out during the transition period, when 
the decorative art film was being succeeded by the 
naturalistic film. Expressionist themes and cubist settings, 
so marked in the first German period, had developed into 
motives of mysticism and Baroque design, to give place 
again to the naturalness of the street, the town, and the 
individual. The Student of Prague combined both of these 
two latter periods. It had open spaciousness and dark 
psychology, wild poetic beauty and a deeply dramatic theme. 
Beyond this, it had Conrad Veidt at his best; a performance 
i Died, Paris, July, 1938. 

285 



THE ACTUAL 

that he has never equalled either before or since. It was, 
possibly, theatrical — but it was, also, filmic in exposition. 
From the beginning of the students' drinking scene to the 
final death of Baldwin, this film was superbly handled. The 
conflict of inner realities; the sadness and joy of changing 
atmospheres; the storm emphasising the anguish of Bald- 
win; the rendering of the depths of human sorrow and 
weakness; the imagination and purity of treatment; the 
intensely dramatic unfolding of the theme; all these en- 
titled this film to rank as great. The interior design was 
admirable, lit with some of the most beautiful lighting I 
have observed. As a film that relied for its emotional effect 
on the nature of the material, the lighting and pictorial 
composition, it was unparalleled. Two other productions 
go to the credit of Galeen, Mandrake (A Daughter of 
Destiny) and After the Verdict, a British production; but 
little can be said in praise of them, although it is only fair 
to add that the British version of the former film was com- 
pletely mutilated in order to meet the censor's requirements. 
Paul Leni's Waxworks was a typical example of the 
early decorative film, revealing, as would be expected from 
an artist of this character, a strong sense of painted, rather 
theatrical, architecture. As is probably known, the film 
purported to tell three episodic incidents of three wax 
figures in a showman's tent, developed by the imagination 
of a poet, the figures being Ivan the Terrible, Haroun-al- 
Raschid, and Jack-the-Ripper. The parts were played by 
Conrad Veidt, Emil Jannings, and Werner Krauss, res- 
pectively; the only occasion on which these three cele- 
brated actors have appeared together in the same film. 
Their individual performances were magnificently acted in 
the theatrical manner. Leni's decorations were simply con- 
ceived, but Waxworks, whilst certainly being a film of 
exceptional interest, was not by any means great from a 
filmic point of view. Its significance lay in its exemplary 
methods of simplicity both in treatment and in design. 
Leni made also Prince Cuckoo, a film about which there is 
little on record and, as already mentioned, designed the 

286 



THE GERMAN FILM 

settings for Robison's Manon Lescaut. His career in 
Hollywood, where he went in 1926, developed into two 
good melodramatic thrillers, The Chinese Parrot and The 
Cat and the Canary, which he followed with a travesty of 
cinematic methods, The Man Who Laughs. He died in 
1929, having just completed an all-sound-and-dialogue 
picture for his American employers, Universal. 

The work of Lupu Pick has tended to become over- 
praised and over-estimated. He played, it is true, a part 
of some importance in the gradual dawn of the German 
naturalistic school, with the production in 1923 of New 
Year's Eve, but this film itself was dreary. It was over- 
acted, in the worst German manner, by Eugen Klopfer, a 
stage actor who knew little of the film, and it was made 
without titles. Pick's direction is principally characterised 
by a slow, deliberate development of plot and character, 
depending wholly on the acting value and narrative situa- 
tions for dramatic effect. Apart from New Year's Eve 
(the English renaming of Sylvester) he is known chiefly by 
his dull version of Ibsen's The Wild Duck; The Last Cab, 
in which he played the lead; The Rail; and La Casemate 
Blindee. He came to Elstree in 1928, and made for the 
Louis Blattner Film Corporation, A Knight in London, a 
light comedy with camerawork by Karl Freund. His 
interest, therefore, really lies in the transitional nature of 
his earlier films. Dr. Arnold Fanck is associated princi- 
pally with that superb mountain film, The Wrath of the 
Gods, a picture of great pictorial beauty. Recently he 
joined G. W. Pabst in the Alpine realisation, The White 
Hell of Pitz Palii. 



Returning to the first period of the German film, that is 
the era of theatricalism and later the beginnings of the 
expressionist and art film, a brief note should be included 
on the Lubitsch productions, and others of a similar type. 
Apart from Anne Boleyn and similar historical pictures, 
Lubitsch directed a meritorious film, The Flame, with Pola 

287 



THE ACTUAL 

Negri, Alfred Abel, and Herman Thimig; as well as the 
Arabian Nights fantasy, Sumurun. To the Buchowetski 
historical pictures should also be added a version of 
Dostoievski's Brothers Karamazov, whilst mention must 
be made of Richard Oswald's Lucretia Borgia and Lady 
Hamilton, as well as the same director's House in the 
Dragonerstrasse, with Werner Krauss. More recently, 
Oswald has directed a spectacular French film based on the 
adventures of Cagliostro, with Hans Stuwe in the name 
part, and a war film, The Fugitive Lover, again with Hans 
Stuwe and Agnes Esterhazy. 

In 1922 there was made the big Neuman production of 
the life of Frederick the Great, played with distinction by 
Otto Gebiihr, with Erna Morena as Queen Christine. 
Fridericus Rex was of great length, so much so that a copy 
has long lain in London for lack of proper editing. By 
those who have seen the film in Germany, it is said to be a 
remarkably faithful representation of historical fact. The 
direction was by Arzen von Cserepy. Another big historical 
production was the Cob Film Company's Martin Luther, 
with Eugen Klopfer in the name part, a film which recently 
caused some sensation in London by the British Board of 
Film Censors' ban upon its showing. The sensational ban 
was duly removed after some slight alterations had been 
made and the Board had perceived the foolishness of their 
action. Despite the publicity it received, however, the film 
proved to be not only dull but without any filmic justifica- 
tion. It was directed by Hans Kyser, a former scenarist to 
Murnau's film, Faust. Among other films of an early date, 
mention must be made of Carl Frohlich's Maternity and 
Tragedy, both typical of their period; Leopold Jessner's 
Hintertreppe, made in 1921, from a scenario by Carl Mayer, 
with Henny Porten, Fritz Kortner, and Wilhelm Dieterle; 
and Frederick Zelnig's Les Tiserands and The Blue 
Danube. 

With the later period of naturalism and reality there 
arose a number of directors, nearly all of whom are of 
significance, including Berthold Viertel, Fritz Wendhausen, 

288 




THE STREET, directed by Karl Grune. 
[German, 1923] 



Eugen Klopfer, Lucie Hoflich. 




THE BLUE ANGEL, directed by Josef von Sternberg. 
Hans Albers, Emil Jannings. [German, 1929] 



Marlene Dietrich, 



THE GERMAN FILM 

the late Bruno Rahn, and Kurt Bernhardt. Viertel, who 
had at an earlier date made The Wig (with Otto Gebiihr) 
and Nora, claims attention by reason of the Adventures of 
a Ten-Mark Note. This was a badly titled and poorly 
edited film, but the basic idea and some of the direction 
were noteworthy, despite unnecessary distortion of camera 
angles. Werner Fiitterer was the outstanding member of 
the cast. Wendhausen, who has also to his credit The Trial 
of Donald Westhof, is chiefly notable for his brilliant film, 
Out of the Mist, with Mady Christians. This was a theme 
of German agricultural life, of a wayside hostelry, of a 
saw-mill, with a climactic ending of torrential floods. The 
direction was simple, going straight to the motive of every 
action that made up the narrative situations. The atmo- 
sphere of the woods, of the fairground, and of the sawmill 
was created with the greatest skill, Wendhausen realising 
the close relationship that lay between the people of the 
village and their land. The interior settings were ex- 
quisitely lit and the photography throughout was beautiful. 
As well as Mady Christians, Werner Fiitterer was again in 
the cast, together with Lia Eibenschutz and Karl Klock. 

Before his untimely death a short time ago, two pictures 
of the ' street ' type were associated with Bruno Rahn, the 
first being Kleinstadt siinder {UAuberge en Folie) and the 
second, The Tragedy of the Street, which was shown in an 
abbreviated form in this country. Rahn followed on the 
lower-class reality that was started by Grune's The Street, 
and continued later by Pabst and Lupu Pick. The Tragedy 
of the Street was an intensely moving, deeply realised film 
of the Street; the feet that walk over its stones; and of the 
people to whom those feet, high heels and low heels, 
belonged. Asta Nielson, that actress of erotic characterisa- 
tion, played the elder of the two prostitutes ; Hilda Jennings, 
the younger, who had dreams of escaping from the life she 
was forced to lead. To many, no doubt, the theme was 
sordid, possibly unpleasant, but Rahn infused its sordid- 
ness with a glimpse of happiness, a sudden appearance of 
all the sentiment of love and joyousness on which the 

289 19 



THE ACTUAL 

woman had turned her back. Asta Nielson has never been 
greater than in this film ; every moment of her slow acting 
was charged with meaning; the basin of black dye and the 
toothbrush ; the buying of the confectionery shop with her 
savings; the final, overpowering tragedy. Throughout, all 
things led back to the street; its pavements with the 
hurrying, soliciting feet; its dark corners and angles; its 
light under the sentinel lamp-posts. Rahn's Kleinstadt- 
siinder, made just previous to The Tragedy of the Street, 
was a lighter theme than the latter, again with Asta 
Nielson, Hans von Schlettow, Hans Wasmann, and 
Ferdinand von Alten. The pictures were produced by the 
Pantomin Film Company, both being superbly photo- 
graphed by Guido Seeber. Kurt Bernhardt is a director of 
the young German school, who achieved rapid acclamation 
by his film, Schinderhannes. He has also to his credit, 
Torments of the Night, a modern theme with Alexander 
Granach and Wilhelm Dieterle. Schinderhannes con- 
tained a narrative placed in the year 1796 when the French 
army occupied the left bank of the Rhine — of a band of 
outlaws who opposed the regime of the French military. 
It was a difficult theme to treat with conviction, but Bern- 
hardt, aided greatly by the camerawork of Gunther 
Krampf , succeeded in making an extremely moving film out 
of its intricate incident. He attempted to develop the 
theme outside national feeling, to realise the characteristics 
and atmosphere of the period, and the sequence of events 
flowed smoothly to the finale of Schinderhannes' death as 
a national hero. 

Among the more pretentious of the recent German pro- 
ductions, it is necessary to include the work of Hans 
Schwartz, Joe May, Tourjanski, and Volkoff. Schwartz 
was the director of an admirable domestic comedy, Love's 
Sacrifice, in which there played a new German actress of 
great charm, Kate von Nagy. He has a light touch, almost 
artificial at times, and a pleasing smoothness of handling. 
Under the supervision of Erich Pommer he made The 
Hungarian Rhapsody, a film obviously inspired by Soviet 

390 



THE GERMAN FILM 

influence (Preobrashenskaia's Peasant Women of Riazan) 
that was hardly successful, but more recently directed 
Brigitte Helm and Franz Lederer in Nina Petrovna, a 
picture of considerable merit with elegant settings by 
Rohrig and Herlth and some clever camerawork by Karl 
Hoffman. Joe May, who is connected at an early date with 
such films as The Hindu Tomb (with Bernard Goetzke) and 
The Japanese Dagger, has also worked recently for the Ufa 
Company under Pommer's control. Asphalt, a. good con- 
ception made unpractical by studio structure, and Home- 
coming, a bad realisation of Leonhard Frank's fine novel, 
Karl and Anna, distinguished only by Gunther Rittau's 
photography, were Joe May pictures. Tourjanski, a 
Russian emigre, was responsible for the Anglo-German 
spectacle, Volga-Volga, a film of interest solely for its 
exterior photography, and Michael Strogoff; and Nicolas 
Volkoff, who is associated with musical comedy spectacles 
(Casanova), made for Ufa the well-staged but Americanised 
Secrets of the Orient. Of the lesser-known German 
directors, those whose names and work must be mentioned 
are Jaap Speyer (Conscience, a powerful film with Bernard 
Goetzke and Walter Rilla) ; Wilhelm Thiele (Hurrah! I'm 
Alive, with the inimitable Nikolai Kolin) ; Erich Washneck 
(Jackals, an excellent film with Olga Tschechowa and Hans 
von Schlettow; A Society Scandal, with Brigitte Helm); 
Willy Reiber (Stitrmfliit, a well-realised theme of the sea) ; 
Max Glass (Homesickness, with Mady Christians and 
Wilhelm Dieterle) ; Willi Wolff (Kopf Hoch Charley, with 
Ellen Richter); Gerhard Lamprecht (Under the Lantern, 
an underworld picture with Lissi Arna) ; and A. W. 
Sandberg (The Golden Clown, with Gosta Ekman and 
Mary Johnson), together with Max Mack, Rudolf Meinert, 
and Manfred Noa. 



The German has been a great cinema. It has produced 
principles and processes that have been all-important con- 
tributions to the cinema of the world. From its individual 

291 



THE ACTUAL 

development there have come the freedom of the camera, 
the feeling of completeness, and the importance of archi- 
tectural environment as part of the realisation. These 
have been brought about by the national aptitude for crafts- 
manship, for structure, for studioism. They have been a 
means to an end that in itself has not yet been discovered. 
It has been well said that the German film begins and ends 
in itself. This, with certain reservations, is true. 

In recapitulation, it has been seen how the years imme- 
diately after the war gave rise to the historical costume 
melodrama, commercial products of the property room and 
Reinhardt (Dubarry, Anne Boleyn, Othello, Merchant of 
Venice). There was then The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari, 
with its decorative environment and its use of psychology, 
to be followed by other expressionist films, Torgus, 
Raskolnikov, Genuine, and later, The Stone Rider. From 
these there developed the decorative film, increasing in 
pictorial beauty to the culminating Faust {Siegfried, Wax- 
works, Destiny). Then began the feeling for reality, still 
by studio representation, with Scherben and The Street, fol- 
lowed in time by the work of Lupu Pick, Murnau, Czinner, 
Pabst, Dupont (New Year's Eve, Last Laugh, Nju, Joy- 
less Street, Vaudeville, and Baruch [1924]); later by Rahn 
and Bernhardt; until there came the surrender to the 
American cinema — resulting in commercial melodrama, to 
be relieved only by the isolated films of Pabst, the large- 
scale studio-films of Lang, and the childlike psychology 
of Hans Behrendt's Robber Band and Die Hose. Finally, 
there is the crisis presented by the advent of the dialogue 
and sound film, the result of which has yet to be seen. 



292 



VIII 

THE FRENCH FILM 

French cineastes have the disconcerting habit of denying 
the existence of the French film despite ever-constant proof 
to the contrary. But then the French cineaste is a tiresome 
fellow, who is always dissatisfied with everything that takes 
place, and is burdened with a mind that chases itself in 
circles. Added to which, we are frequently given to under- 
stand by him that the failure of the French cinema is due 
entirely to its being French. 

Apart from so discouraging a national outlook, few 
writers in this country appear to appreciate the significance 
of the French cinema, and even those who do have only 
reached that frame of mind with the recent importation 
of avant-garde productions into London. The reason for 
this lack of appreciation in Britain of the French product 
seems to be due to three causes; first, because much of 
the French cinema, save for the grand spectacular films, 
has been experimental in nature, and therefore a closed 
book to British film writers; secondly, because production 
in France has always been spasmodic; and thirdly, because 
there has been comparatively little opportunity for the close 
examination of the French film in Britain, except at the 
performances of the London Film Society. 1 

In short, then, the general ignorance as to the salient 
characteristics, influences, and tendencies of the French 
cinema is singularly profound, a fact that is all the more 
remarkable in that the French film is of extreme importance, 
not only to the cinema of Europe, but to a proper under- 
standing of the cinema as a whole. 

1 Gratitude is to be accorded Mr. Stuart Davis for his enterprise in 
presenting at the Avenue Pavilion, London, a three-month's season of 
French productions during the autumn and winter 1929-30. This provided 
an excellent opportunity for the examination of some of the outstanding 
examples of the French school. 

293 



THE ACTUAL 

As stated above, the French cineaste has strangely little 
regard for the capabilities of his self-created cinema. He 
appears to be always too interested in the films of other 
countries to take part in his own productions. In post-war 
days, he was the most appreciative critic of the German and 
the now extinct Swedish film; this, later, being displaced 
by a reaction to the constructive methods of the Soviets; 
whilst the whole time he has had a sneaking fondness for 
the American movie, first for its action, and now for its sex. 
The position is rendered the more curious in that several of 
the qualities which the cineaste admires in the American 
cinema are indirectly derived from his own. Despite its 
increasing prevalence, the reason for this idolisation of 
Hollywood is hard to discover. The sole aim of the 
average French director seems to be to go to Hollywood, 
which surely is the last place in which to find a creative 
understanding of the cinema. But, notwithstanding all 
logic, the cineaste has a constant craving after the metallic 
glitter of the movie, with its movement of acting material 
and mock-humanitarianism. The fully charged sex-appeal 
movie is the fetish of the French cineastes. The natural 
acting material of France (Pierre Batch eff, Maurice de 
Feraudy, Philippe Heriat, Jim Gerald, Gina Manes) is 
suppressed in the fervent worship of Sue Carol, Florence 
Vidor, and Joan Crawford, and the physical toughness of 
George Bancroft and Victor McLaglen. They will deny 
the presence of the capricious Catherine Hessling in favour 
of Lupe Velez. They will ruthlessly condemn Epstein and 
Dreyer, but enthuse over von Sternberg and von Stroheim. 
The Wedding March is considered preferable to En Rade; 
Our Dancing Daughters to Therese Raquin; White 
Shadows to Finis Terrae. They will accept the decor of 
Cedric Gibbons and forget that it is almost wholly derived 
from the Exposition des Arts Decoratifs, held at Paris in 
1925. It is this ridiculous state of artificiality that strangles 
the French cinema to-day, that prevents it from pro- 
gressing along its natural course of development. There 
are fortunately, however, a few directors who have suffi- 

294 



THE FRENCH FILM 

cient independence and are sane-headed enough to stand 
above this adolescent attitude of self-condemnation, such as 
Rene Clair and Jean Epstein, and it is to these men that we 
must look for the future of the French cinema in its purified 
form. 

Meanwhile, the young cineaste perpetually calls for 
youth in the film. The dynamic vitality of the American 
girl is his schoolboy downfall. He is incapable of achieving 
a true perspective of the cinema as a whole, of its wide- 
spread developments and traditions. He has, in fact, lost 
his sense of values when he calls The Crowd the greatest 
achievement of the American cinema. 



In contrast to the cinema of the Soviets, collectivism in 
film production is practically unknown in France. This, it 
would seem, is partly due to the haphazard methods of the 
producing companies and to the natural disinclination of 
the French for co-operation. Nearly every film of interest 
which has originated from France has been the product of 
an individualistic artist mind. This characteristic is to be 
found equally in the experiments of the avant-garde and in 
the bigger realisations of Clair, Feyder, Epstein, and 
Dreyer. But perhaps the basic reason for this single- 
mindedness is that it is the logical outcome of the painter's 
studio so inherent in French tradition. One has but to 
recall the last two decades of the nineteenth century, when 
the marble-top cafe table bred the environment in which 
the camaraderie of Seurat, Lautrec, Van Gogh, Gauguin, 
and the rest had its origin. This group habit, so typical of 
Parisian intellectualism, has given rise to the cinematic 
artist and photogenic experimentalist, personified in 
Duchamp, Chomette, Deslav, Gremillon, Man Ray, etc., 
and which is so well instanced in their ' absolute ' cine- 
matics, L'Etoile de Mer, Montparnasse, Fait Divers, A 
quoi r event les jeunes films, and others. 

Much has been said to the detriment of the French 
avant-garde film, but, nevertheless, I believe that it con- 

295 



THE ACTUAL 

stitutes an excellent grounding for the young film director. 
We know that it is the fashion for any young man of 
intelligence to borrow a few thousand francs and a camera 
and to make an abstract, ' absolute ' film of Paris, selling 
it afterwards (if he is fortunate) to an advertising firm. 
But this is an admirable way for that young man to develop 
his filmic instinct, if by any chance he should possess any. 
In themselves, experimental films are of little significance, 
being mere object-lessons in cinematic values and the 
various uses of the resources of the cinema. They are a 
testing ground for the instruments of the film, and hence 
should be of the utmost interest to the big-scale director. 
In all experimental films there are to be found a dozen uses 
of camera devices and trick photography, which, with modi- 
fications, can be employed in the commercial film. Rene 
Clair's Entr'acte, made in 1923, may be cited as a typical 
example. It was realised from a scenario in the dadaist 
manner by Francis Picabia, and purported to be an exposi- 
tion of the cult of the spontaneous dissociation of ideas. It 
exploited the theory, now discarded, of the irrelevance of 
material events and consequently was entirely antagonistic 
in conception to the essential organisation, selection, and 
construction of the cinema. Contained in its realisation, 
however, were various camera devices, now familiar, of 
slow-motion, the reversal of pictorial composition from left 
to right of the screen, and photographing a ballet dancer 
from below through a sheet of glass. Henri Chomette's A 
quoi r event les jeunes films (1924) was also in this category, 
the material content being entirely composed of light and 
speed, the human element being absent from the film save 
for the cine-portraits of Man Ray. It was an attempt at 
pure emotionalism. The environment of the cineastes is 
completed by the cine-journalists, with their ephemeral out- 
look and easily impressed minds, who are ever busy in 
criticism and filmic theory. And behind them lies the group 
of little cinemas which specialise in the presentation of 
avant-garde work and intelligent films from other countries 
— the Studio 28, Studio des Ursulines, Studio Diamant, etc. 

296 



#* ^r 






LA CIGARETTE, directed by Germaine Dulac. Signoret. [French, 19 19] 




PARIS QUI DORT, directed by Rene Clair. Albert Prejean. [French, 1923] 



-&*Mmt;m 




THE LATE MATTHEW PASCAL, directed by Marcel L'Herbier. 
Ivan Mosjoukine, Marcelle Pradot. [French, 1924] 




KEAN, directed by Nicholas Wolkoff. 
[French, 1924] 



Nikolai Kolin. Ivan Mosjoukine. 



THE FRENCH FILM 

I hope the experimental contribution of the French 
cinema will ever be present in Paris, which is a fitting back- 
ground for an avant-garde movement. The short capricious 
films of Germaine Dulac, Eugene Deslav, Georges Lacombe, 
Rouguier, Man Ray, Kirsanov, Gremillon are always 
mentally stimulating in that they seldom end with them- 
selves. They are continually suggestive of new ideas, new 
shapes and angles, that may be of significance to the cinema 
proper. On the other hand, it is ridiculous to accept the 
avant-garde movement as the aesthetic zenith of the film, 
as so many of the intelligentsia seem to do. The experi- 
mentalists in the abstract and ' absolute ' film are interesting 
in their right place, which is the private cinema, but any 
attempt to thrust their work on to the public at large is 
merely absurd. 1 

Developed from the experimental groups there are a 
number of directors of some maturity, who have come to 
realise that a considerable amount of money is necessary 
for the production of any film of significance. Clair, 
Epstein, Cavalcanti, Renoir, have all had their training in 
the avant-garde before making larger pictures. Thus has 
come into being the principal characteristic of the French 
cinema, the single-minded production with the director or 
the cameraman, as the case may be, as the sole metteur-en- 
scene. Hence, Gance is the single creator of Napoleon, 
Clair of Le Chapeau de Paille d'ltalie, and Feyder of 
Therese Raquin; whilst on a lpwer scale are Deslav's La 
Marche des Machines, Dulac's La Coquille et le Clergyman, 
and Kirsanov's Brumes d'automne. 

But this constant stream of experimental work does not 
mean that France's sole contribution to the cinema will 
remain in an empirical state, as so many like to assume. On 
the contrary, it suggests that France should possess a 

1 The coming of the sound film, the greatly all-round increased costs 
of production, the Trade Union requirements for minimum technical 
crews, all these have practically made experiment impossible. For a 
time in the thirties, the British documentary school offered opportunity 
for experiment, but even that has tended to disappear as documentary 
units became more and more dependent on sponsorship of a bureaucratic 
and unimaginative kind. 

297 



THE ACTUAL 

number of distinguished directors grown up through stages 
of experiment. 1 There is, however, a wide gulf between 
the French director and the French producer, well instanced 
by Rene Clair's relationship with Albatross-Sequana. With 
the exception of the Societe Generale de Films, there exists 
no producing company in France which recognises the 
artist-mind of the French director. Producers seem unable 
to realise that, instead of organising their industry on an 
American basis, they must adapt their production schedule 
according to the directors whom they employ. This would 
result in a permanent policy of individually realised films, 
each with its controlling source in the artist-mind of the 
director. As mentioned above, this policy has been adopted 
by the Societe Generale de Films and has resulted, to date, 
in two outstanding productions, Finis Terrae and La 
Passion de Jeanne d Arc. The production plans of this 
enterprising company have, however, been temporarily sus- 
pended, owing to the problems raised by the dialogue film. 
But it is useless to believe that this natural outcome of 
the French cinema, even if widely adopted, will ever 
flourish on a big commercial scale. The market for the 
French ' artist ' production must necessarily remain limited, 
for the French have not any idea of the entertainment of 
the masses. The appeal of such films as La Passion de 
Jeanne d'Arc is naturally restricted, but it is sufficient to 
ensure further production if unhampered by the side-issues 
of the dialogue film. The French cinema as a whole is 
incapable of competing with the vast commercial product 
of Hollywood, and no amount of ' quota ' regulations will 
make it possible. The opportunity of the French producing 
companies* lies in the public which the American and British 
companies are creating by their steady stream of indifferent 
talking films. This public is definitely hostile to the 
product that is being thrust upon it from Elstree and 
Hollywood, and would* be receptive of good films from 

1 The subsequent development of the French feature film in the 
thirties and the distinguished work of such directors as Carne, Duvivier, 
Gremillon, Renoir, and Clement add further to this comment made 
before the full flowering of the French cinema. 

298 



THE FRENCH FILM 



any country. The French commercial development is 
gradual but sure, and if a better understanding could be 
reached between producer and director, and the companies 
would be content with small profits, there waits a public in 
this country which will receive their product. 



Directly associated with the rise of the French film 
director from the environment of the artist's atelier and 
the marble-top table of the boulevard is his delight in the 
perfect composition of the visual image. The cineaste has 
first and foremost a pictorial outlook, which is as discernible 
in the avant-garde films as in the large-scale spectacle pro- 
ductions of the French commercial cinema. In contra- 
distinction to the slow morbid psychology and emphasis on 
dramatic acting values that mark the early German and 
Swedish films, the French cinema has always been charac- 
terised by its directors' love of classical compositions, 
almost in an early nineteenth-century manner. It is an 
outlook that bears comparison with the classicism of the 
painters Chavannes and David. The French director fre- 
quently sets out to create an environment solely by a series 
of succeeding visual images, often of great pictorial beauty 
in themselves but usually non-dynamic in material. There 
have been many attempts to establish thematic atmosphere 
with the barest framework of narrative content. Such was 
the intention of Cavalcanti's En Rade and Epstein's Finis 
Terrae, as well as numerous of the avant-garde films, Menil- 
montant, La Zone, Tour au Large, Le Tour, etc. Of recent 
years, with the interest shown by the cineaste in the Soviet 
cinema, principles of cutting have been infused into the 
values of pictorial composition. But quite unlike the con- 
structive policy of the Soviet director, the avant-garde seem 
to believe that material can be photographed anywhere and 
anyhow as long as the images themselves are of interest, 
and that by simply joining them together, according to their 
form and shape, a complete film will result. This fallacious 

299 



THE ACTUAL 

idea is, of course, wholly antagonistic to the principles of 
constructive editing and cutting as understood in Russia. 
Instances of the chaos produced by this irrelevant method 
were to be seen in Silka's La Ballade dn Canart, Man Ray's 
Les Mysteres du Chateau du De, and Eugene Deslav's 
Montpamasse. Only one French example occurs where 
constructive editing has been rightly incorporated with 
beautiful visual images — in the often quoted Finis Terrae. 

With the exception of the two recent comedies of Rene 
Clair, the French director has little real feeling for move- 
ment of acting material. It is on these grounds that the 
cine- journalist rightly attacks his own cinema, holding up 
for example the American action film, formerly in the 
Western and later in the underworld thriller. It is this 
failure to utilise movement of acting material that causes 
the French grand films, such as Koenigsmark, Monte Cristo, 
Michael Strogoff, Casanova, and Le Joiteur d'Echecs to be 
unconvincing. Although pictorially these big productions 
seldom fail to please, their paucity of action often renders 
them depressing. The spectacle films, which are so typically 
French in their pageantry and pomp, are conceived in the 
latent spirit of eightenth-century romanticism. Despite 
the fact that they are almost always extremely well done 
from a historical and visual point of view, the perfection of 
pictorialism does not prevent them from becoming fre- 
quently tedious and often exceptionally dull, as in Le 
Miracle des Loups and La Merveilleuse Vie de Jeanne 
d'Arc. For actual detail in reconstruction of settings and 
costumes the French are unparalleled for good taste and 
accuracy, but these grand films are negligible cinematically. 
On this account, therefore, despite their shallowness and 
entire absence of good faith, the American costume spec- 
tacles, such as Ben-Hur, General Crack, and The Beloved 
Rogue are preferable filmically to their French counterpart 
and certainly more commercially successful. This fact is 
all the more deplorable when one recalls the brilliant 
costumes and settings, so perfect in spirit and taste, of such 
a film as Gaston Ravel's Le Collier de la Reine. 

300 



THE FRENCH FILM 

The supreme example of the pictorial mind was instanced 
in that most remarkable of films, Carl Dreyer's La 
Passion de Jeanne d'Arc, where the very beauty of the 
individual visual images destroyed the filmic value of the 
production. Every shot in this extraordinary film was so 
beautifully composed, so balanced in linear design and dis- 
tribution of masses, so simplified in detail that the specta- 
tor's primary desire was to tear down each shot as it 
appeared on the screen and to hang it on his bedroom wall. 
This was in direct opposition to the central aim of the 
cinema, in which each individual image is inconsequential 
in itself, being but a part of the whole vibrating pattern. 
In Dreyer's beautiful film the visual image was employed to 
its fullest possible extent, but employed graphically and not 
filmically. But more of La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc later. 
Alberto Cavalcanti (who, it will be recalled, was a set- 
designer before a mettenr-en-scene) is another example of 
the pictorial but non-cinematic mind. En Rade was com- 
posed of numerous lovely compositions out of which was 
built an atmosphere of ships and the sea, but the film was 
definitely lacking in the dynamic vitality of the cinema. But 
in Epstein's Finis Terrae the visual image was constructively 
used. Every shot was of interest; first, psychologically in 
the filmic manner, and secondly, from a pictorial stand- 
point. Epstein worked with a cinematic, constructive mind, 
keeping the graphic visual design of secondary importance. 
The same cinematic relation between image and content was 
found also in Feyder's Therese Raquin, in which the 
influence of Germanic psychology was strongly marked in 
the arrangement of the images, Feyder also employing with 
subtle skill the contrast of light intensities to emphasise the 
expression of the dramatic mood. 

Indirectly related to the French delight in the harmonious 
composition of images is a leaning towards the decorative, 
artificially created environment, which is again non-cine- 
matic in its semi-theatrical artistry. This tendency towards 
sweetness of decoration I am almost inclined to describe as 
artistic embellishment, if I had not so great an admiration 

301 



THE ACTUAL 

for French graphic art in its proper surroundings. The 
creation of the artificial environment, especally when in- 
clined to become sentimental in the French film as compared 
with the expressionist and fauvist character of the early 
German pictures, is hostile to the proper aim of the cinema, 
which is primarily concerned with the representation of 
reality. In the French film, as in the German, this environ- 
ment may at first sight be taken for a degree of fantasy. 
Actually, however, it is nothing of the sort. It is the 
syrup of sentimentality, destructive to the force fulness of 
purpose of the cinema. It was seen at its worst and most 
decadent in the fairyland settings of Clair's Le Voyage 
Imaginaire and in Renoir's La Petite Marchande d Allu- 
mettes, where it was strongly reminiscent of the Russian 
ballet and the decorations of the Chauve-Souris. Moreover, 
beyond setting, it spreads into spiritual themes until there 
is found the ' Spirit of France ' in Napoleon, with its 
fluttering eagle, the ' Rose of the Rail ' in La Roue and in 
Poirier's vision d'hisloire, Verdun. It is a type of poetic 
symbolism, essentially nineteenth century in feeling, of 
spiritual sentimentality that is uncongenial to the archi- 
tectural, contemporary essence of the cinema. 

Of the present directors in France it has been said that 
the most significant are Jean Epstein, Rene Clair, Abel 
Gance, Carl Dreyer (a Dane who has recently worked in 
France with French material) and Jacques Feyder (a 
Belgian, who has directed in Germany and who is now in 
Hollywood). 1 The first two of these have developed from 
the avant-garde movement. 

Epstein, who is of Polish origin, is characterised by his 
philosophy of outlook and his essentially cinematic mind, 
which has recently been influenced by the constructivism of 
the Soviet cinema. Amongst his early experimental work, 
usually conceived with a sense of mysticism and expressed 
by a variety of trick camerawork, mention may be made of 
Mauprat, Le Cceur Fidele, L'Affiche, La Glace a Trois 
Faces, and Six et Demi x Onze. It was with his version of 
1 Died, Lausanne, 1948, 

302 



THE FRENCH FILM 

La chute de la Maison Usher that he first claimed serious 
attention. He succeeded in this somewhat theatrical pro- 
duction in creating an atmosphere of macabre mysticism, 
rather after the manner of Murnau in the earlier Dracula. 
Chiefly notable were his uses of flying drapery, of low- 
lying mist, of gusts of wind and of the imagery of guttering 
candle flames, with which he emphasised the literary value 
of Poe's story. Regrettable were the poor model shots, 
clumsily contrived, which were destructive to the poetic 
atmosphere of the whole. Epstein was hampered by the 
interpretation of a literary theme in terms of the cinema. 
Utterly different, however, was his next work, the realisa- 
tion of Finis Terrae. This was a film with practically no 
narrative content, taken from actual material on an island 
off the coast of Brittany. The theme concerned an injury 
to the hand of a fisherman, who was one of four gathering 
a harvest of kelp on the island of Bannec, and a quarrel 
that resulted from the accident. The value of the content 
rested on the interplay of the emotions and reactions of 
the characters to the incidental events. For the first two- 
thirds of his film, Epstein built the theme in preparation for 
a final climactic ending. In the last third he lost control, 
and by changing the location from the fishermen on the 
island to their mothers and the doctor, he failed to retain 
the unity of the earlier portion. Nevertheless, despite this 
mistake in scenario construction, Epstein made a film of 
great strength, of powerful psychological and pictorial 
value, that may be placed almost on the level of Flaherty's 
Moana. He has recently completed Sa Tete, which, 
although conceived on the same lines as the earlier film, is 
said to be more artificial in psychological construction. 

The two best comedies realised in France have come 
from Rene Clair, who is perhaps the most delightfully witty 
and ingenious director in Europe. He has, moreover, that 
quality of employing movement of material which is absent 
from the work of most French directors. He has learnt 
freely from the American cinema, from Mack Sennett and 
from Lloyd, but his idol, of course, is Chaplin. Clair 

303 



THE ACTUAL 

manipulates his adaptations with a degree of refinement 
that renders them peculiarly his own. His films, especially 
the two most recent examples, Le Chap can de Paille d' It die 
and Les Deux Timides, are more completely French in 
feeling than any other productions. He has an extra- 
ordinary skill in combining satire, comedy, sentiment, and 
fantasy. Originally a journalist on L Intransigeant, he 
later took up acting, eventually becoming an assistant to 
Jacques de Baroncelli. His early films were all experi- 
mental in form, beginning in 1922 with Paris qui Dort, 
followed by the already-mentioned Entr'acte, Le Fantbme 
du Moulin Rouge, Le Tour, and Le Voyage Imaginaire. 
Few of these were of much consequence in themselves, but 
during their realisation Clair learned a thorough knowledge 
of the resources of the cinema, which was to be of great 
avail in his more ambitious later productions. In 1925, he 
accepted a contract wth the Albatross-Sequana producing 
firm, and for obvious commercial reasons his work became 
bridled and less wild. This limitation, however, brought 
out the best in Clair, for he was forced to extract the utmost 
out of the material provided for him by his firm. In La 
Proie du Vent, although hampered by an uninteresting 
scenario, he made a competent picture, with a few indivi- 
dual sequences of exceptional merit. Two years later he 
produced his best work, Le Chapeau de Paille d'ltalie, a 
brilliant comedy deep in bitter satire of French middle-class 
life, and realised with a high degree of intelligence and 
cinematic skill. Around a simple dual theme of a man 
who was a little hard of hearing and the destruction of a 
lady's straw hat, Clair wove a film that was not only 
exceptionally witty, but a penetrating commentary on the 
pettiness and small-mindedness of the bourgeoisie who con- 
stitute such a large proportion of the French population. 
For this reason, the film was not a commercial success, the 
public being partially aware of its exposure and righteously 
indignant, with the result that Clair remained idle for a 
year, although still under contract to Albatross-Sequana. 
Finally, he was allowed to make another comedy, Les Deux 

304 





THE ITALIAN STRAW HAT, directed by Rene Clair. [French, 1927] 




THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER, directed by Jean Epstein. 
Jean Dubencourt, Charles Lamay. [French, 1928] 



THE FRENCH FILM 

Timides which, though less brilliant than its predecessor, 
was nevertheless of considerable note. His fire and wit 
were not given the freedom that had rendered Le Chapeau 
de Paille d'ltalie so brilliant, but for use of technical trick- 
work in order to achieve funny effect it stands almost 
alone. Clair's fervent admiration of Chaplin is apparent 
throughout all his work, but that is not to say that he is 
in any way an imitator of the great comedian. Probably 
A Woman of Paris has had more influence on his outlook 
than the actual comedies of Chaplin. There is no question 
that Clair has very definitely his own individual sense of 
cinema and a mentality that I do not hesitate to place along- 
side that of the other big directors in the cinema for its 
refined wit and intelligence. I certainly suggest that Le 
Chapeau de Paille d'ltalie is the most brilliant satirical 
comedy produced in Europe, to be grouped with Lubitsch's 
The Marriage Circle and Chaplin's A Woman of Paris. 

Although Carl Dreyer's great contribution to the cinema 
lies in the production of La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc, his 
work at an earlier period was distinguished by a simplicity 
of handling and an understanding of psychological values 
in the development of character. 1 In 1924, he made Hearfs 
Desire for Ufa, with a thematic narrative based on an 
artist's love for his adopted son and the latter's ingratitude. 
It was slow moving, unfolded with careful deliberation of 
detail, Benjamin Christensen playing Zoret, the artist, and 
Walther Slezack, the boy. Some time later he made The 
Master of the House {Le Maitre du Logis), a Danish pro- 
duction telling the story of a lower middle-class flat occu- 
pied by a man, his wife, and three children, and the com- 
plications that ensued owing to the selfishness of the 
husband. The direction was quite straightforward, with 
scrupulous attention paid to detail and without any variety 
of angles or lighting. Yet it was powerfully done, intimate, 
and compelling. It had little success in any country save 
France, whither, on the strength of it, Dreyer went in 

1 There is an excellent study of Carl Dreyer's work to be found in 
£31 Filminstruktons Arbejde, by Ebbe Neergaard (Copenhagen, 1940). 

305 20 



THE ACTUAL 

1927 to make the immortal Ba Passion de Jeanne d'Arc. 

It seems ungrateful to level adverse criticism at this 
beautiful film, for it was so moving and so intense that 
hostile opinion appears ridiculous. Nevertheless, despite 
the admiration evoked by the visual and spiritual meaning 
of this representaton of the last moments of the agony of 
Jeanne d'Arc, cinematically Dreyer' s film was not great. 
Its overwhelming fault of the isolation of the visual images 
from the dynamic content has already been explained, and 
further comment on its lack of filmic texture is considered 
superfluous. But it remains to record that Dreyer deserved 
the highest praise for his marvellous representation of 
environment; his terrible and strong use of camera angle 
and camera movement for the close establishment of an 
intimacy between the characters and the audience that has 
rarely, if ever, been equalled; and for his splendid sub- 
ordination of detail in settings and general atmosphere. He 
insisted that no make-up of any sort should be used by his 
acting material, with the result that the faces looked like 
burning copper with finely wrinkled textures against the 
stark white backgrounds. A strange power, an unprece- 
dented insistence was given to the characters by this lack 
of artificial make-up. Across the screen spread great close- 
ups of eyes, a leer, the corner of a mouth, a smirk, a 
delicately marked hand, revealing with tremendous force 
the inward thoughts and emotions of the crowd, the judges, 
the monks, the soldiers, and above all, the expressions of 
Jeanne herself, hesitating, perplexed, enlightened, an- 
guished, ever fascinating. For once there was no conces- 
sion to public convention, no star, no high-spot, no box- 
office appeal, no ' last-minute rescue ', nothing but the 
dominating direction of Dreyer. There is no question that 
La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc was extraordinarily powerful. 
From the opening to the closing shot it held, swayed, 
staggered, overwhelmed and tore at the spectator. It some- 
how contrived to get underneath and round the back of 
one's receptivity. It demanded the complete concentration 
of the audience from start to finish. I have no compunction 

306 



LA PASSION DE JEANNE D'ARG, directed by Carl Th. Dreyer. [French, 1928] 




THERESE RAQUIN, directed by Jacques Feyder. 
Hans von Schlettow. [French, 1927] 



Gina Manes, 



THE FRENCH FILM 

in saying that it was one of the most remarkable productions 
ever realised in the history and development of the cinema, 
but it was not a full exposition of real filmic properties. 

Dreyer's employment of the psychology of human emo- 
tions and reactions was profound. His sense of atmosphere 
was superbly expressed. The greater portion of the film 
was taken in close-ups from high and low level angles, the 
screen being constantly flooded with compositions so com- 
pletely pleasing in themselves that they ceased to be contri- 
butions to the concatenation of shots. The greatest praise 
should be given to the whole production unit and the extra- 
ordinary playing of Mme. Falconetti as Jeanne. Eighteen 
months were spent on the film for the Societe Generate de 
Films, and despite its demerit the film will ever be 
memorable. 

The style of Jacques Feyder, who is a Belgian, appears 
to change with each of his interesting productions. It 
would seem he is naturally assimilative. He has adapted 
from the Germans and from the Swedes, but he has always 
adapted correctly and with sincerity. In his list of films 
are to be found, L' Image (from a scenario by Jules 
Romains) ; Atlantide ; Gribiche ; Crainquebille, from the 
Anatole France short story; Visages d'Enfants; Carmen, 
with Raquel Meller; Therese Raquin, from Zola, and a 
comedy, Les Nouveaux Messieurs. It is, however, in the 
two latter films that Feyder demands most attention. He is 
essentially a director of dramatic situations, of heavy con- 
flict between disturbed emotions, and for such handling the 
material of Zola's Therese Raquin was admirable. It was 
made in German studios for the Defu firm, and its lighting 
and treatment were typically Germanic. But pre-eminent 
was Feyder's remarkable direction of Gina Manes, an 
actress who can be as good (as in Therese Raquin) or as 
bad (as in Molander's Sin, from the Strindberg play), 
according to the mind controlling her playing. Feyder's 
treatment of Therese, her inner mind, her unsatisfied sex, 
her viciousness and her sensuality was an amazing example 
of dramatic direction. By the smallest movement, by the 

307 



THE ACTUAL 

flicker of an eyelash, by a sidelong glance at Laurent, by 
her partly opened mouth, by her calm composure at the 
Raquin home, and by her passion in the studio of her lover, 
the spectator was forced to share the mind of this remark- 
able woman. In the handling of Wolfgang Zeller, as 
Camille the husband, with his adjustable cuffs and cheerful 
bonhomie, Feyder was equally brilliant, bringing to the 
surface the pitiful desolation of the little man's life. 
Feyder built his film by the use of selected detail, by 
indirect suggestion, and by symbolism into a strong emo- 
tional realisation of a dramatic theme. He was inclined, 
it is true, to exaggerate the melodrama of the closing scenes 
by too heavy a contrast in lighting and by a sequence of 
double and triple exposure which disturbed the smooth con- 
tinuity that was so well achieved in the first two-thirds of 
the picture. Nevertheless, Therese Raquin was a great 
achievement of dramatic direction, an example of the use 
of emphasis of detail to reinforce the content. The fol- 
lowing Feyder picture was in direct contrast to the depres- 
sion of Zola, for Les Nouveaux Messieurs was a comedy of 
politics adapted from a stage play, demanding satirical 
direction utterly different from the sombreness of Therese 
Raquin. It was not surprising that this film caused a flutter 
in the French political dovecote; that feeling at first ran 
so high that the censor intervened and prohibited it being 
shown in its country of inception, although later the ban 
was removed. The dominating feature of Les Nouveaux 
Messieurs was its biting humour. The foibles of the rival 
politicians were mercilessly exploited in a mute appeal to 
the intelligence of the spectator as a silent protest against 
the childishness of party political strife. Technically, it was 
interesting for some competent camerawork, with frequent 
use of low-level angles and clever composite photography, 
as in the confusion of thought in the telephone scene at the 
Trade Union Headquarters. The outstanding impression 
given by these two Feyder films, Therese Raquin and Les 
Nouveaux Messieurs, was the astonishing versatility of 
their director. Both, in their kind, could scarcely have been 

308 



THE FRENCH FILM 

more brilliant. Feyder's first film in Hollywood for Metro- 
Goldwyn- Mayer was The Kiss, which has been mentioned 
in the American chapter at an earlier stage as a clever 
mixture of picture-sense and filmic intelligence. 

Marcel l'Herbier is the supreme virtuoso of the French 
cinema, his films at all times revealing a high degree of 
technical accomplishment. His work suffers, if one may be 
allowed the term, from over-intellectuality. He is essen- 
tially the cinematic aesthete rather than the film director. 
His technique is too brilliant to be convincing, too clever to 
be of purpose for dramatic expression. His recent film 
L' Argent, from Zola, with its refinement of setting and 
forced acting, was evidence of this sensitive intellectualism. 
Of the many pictures to his credit, there may be mentioned 
for reference U Homme du large, in 1920, typical of the 
first avant-garde movement; Don Juan and Faust, in 1921, 
with Jacques Catelain and Marcelle Pradot, a curious mix- 
ture of Velazquez pictorial influence and the expressionism 
of The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari; El Dorado, notable at its 
time for distorted camerawork ; Le Marchand des Plaisirs, 
again with Catelain; Le Vertige; Ulnhumaine; Le Diable 
au Coeur, with Betty Balfour and Andre Nox; Le Feu 
Mathias Pascal, from Pirandello, with Ivan Mosjoukine 
and settings by Alberto Cavalcanti; U Argent, with 
Brigitte Helm, Alfred Abel, and Marie Glory; and Nuits 
de Princes, with Catelain and Gina Manes. L'Herbier is a 
prolific director, always of interest, but seldom producing a 
picture of complete merit. 

Apart from his artist's appreciation of pictorial beauty, 
Alberto Cavalcanti is not a director of cinematic films. His 
selection of visual images and his delicate sense of environ- 
ment are sincere, but his expression of theme and content 
is not filmic in texture. He has but little idea of camera 
position except for pictorialism and none at all of construc- 
tive editing for dramatic effect. These faults and virtues 
are apparent in all his work, in the decor for THerbier's 
Ulnhumaine and Le Feu Mathias Pascal, and the realisa- 
tions of Yvette, Rien que les Heures, En Rade, and Le 

309 



THE ACTUAL 

Capitaine Fracasse. His most interesting work was in the 
burlesque cine-poem, La P'tite Lili, in which he touched a 
true note of poetic sentimentality. Although his films are 
littered with garbage and depression, they are always sweet 
natured. Rieti que les Heures, made in 1926, was similar 
in aim to Ruttman's Berlin, but whereas the latter film was 
an impersonal selection of images taken during a day in a 
great city, Cavalcanti's handling was more human and 
intimate. Among a pattern of shots of Paris, interspaced 
at regular intervals by close-ups of a clock marking the 
hours, he followed the movements of an old woman and a 
young girl. Cavalcanti is not interested in the usual devices 
favoured by the avant-garde, being generally concerned with 
the slow unfolding of a human being's life. En Rade, set 
among the quays and ships of Marseilles, was a praise- 
worthy example of centralisation of environment, beautiful 
pictorially, but negligible cinematically. His last picture to 
be seen was a costume romance adapted from Gautier, Le 
Capitaine Fracasse, rich in seventeenth-century detail and 
atmosphere, but unfilmic in form. He has recently 
completed Le Petit Chaperon Rouge, with Catherine 
Hessling. 

Jean Renoir, son of the famous painter, is recalled prin- 
cipally by three films, Nana, La petite Marchande des 
Allumettes, and Le Tournoi. The first was based on the 
Zola novel, with Werner Krauss and Catherine Hessling in 
a mixture of the can-can, Lautrec back-stage and Offen- 
bach; the second was a charming, sentimental realisation 
of the Hans Andersen story, notable for the fascination of 
the irresistible Hessling and a wilfully artificial setting 
already commented upon; while the third was a costume 
romance, in the best French historical manner, scrupulously 
accurate but quite unconvincing. 

Abel Gance is the grand maitre of the French cinema, 
theoretically the apotheosis of great directors, but in prac- 
tice always out-of-date with ideas. He spent five years on 
the production of Napoleon, a theme so vast that it defeated 
its own, Abel Gance's and everybody else's purpose. It was 

310 



THE FRENCH FILM 

filled with imagination, technical devices, and ramifications 
of complicated scenario work, needing three screens on 
which to exhibit its lumbering bulk. It was tediously 
cumbersome and hopelessly overweighted with symbolic 
reference. Gance is essentially the employer of the symbolic 
image, with the ' Spirit of France ' perpetually at the back 
of his mind. Solemnly we observe the eagles in Napoleon; 
the rails, wheels, and signals in La Roue; the parks and 
terraces in La Zone de la Mort; and the lily in J' Accuse. 
Mention should be made of his early films, La Dixieme 
Symphonie and Mater Dolorosa, both outstanding at their 
time of realisation. He has now embarked on another 
stupendous theme, The End of the World; the year of 
presentation has not yet been calculated. 

With the pre-war period of the French cinema I have 
little concern. It is mostly to be summed up in the 
characteristic productions of the Gaumont, Pathe, and 
Aubert companies, marked chiefly by their theatrical con- 
ception, stylised acting and the attention paid to story 
value. One of the most ambitious efforts was a several 
reel version in Pathecolor of Victor Hugo's Les Miserables. 
The domestic comedies of Max Linder, whom I am tempted 
to describe as a prototype of Adolphe Menjou, may also 
be recalled. Similarly, I do not intend to catalogue the 
many films produced during the early post-war years in 
France by various directors, but, if occasion arises, 
reference may be made to the work of the late Louis Delluc 
{La Fete Espagnole, in collaboration with Germaine Dulac, 
in 1920 ; La Femme de Nulle Part and Fievre, both made 
in 1921); of Jacques de Baroncelli (Le Carillon de Minuit, 
Le Pere Goriot, Pecheur d'lslande, and Rcveil, with Isobel 
Elsom) ; of Severin-Mars (JLe Coeur Magnifique) ; and of 
Jules Duvivier (La Tr age die de Lourdes). 

To these may be added Nicolas VolkofTs Kean, a film of 
considerable merit made in 1924; Leon Poirier's Jocelyn, 
Verdun, and La Croisiere Noire (an admirable interest 
picture) ; Marc Allegret's travel film, in conjunction with 
Andre Gide, Voyage au Congo; the amusing work of 

311 



THE ACTUAL 

Germaine Dulac, Arabesque, Mme. Beudet, and La Coquille 
et le Clergyman; and the many short films of the avant- 
garde, too numerous for inclusion. 1 



From this, some slight estimate of the significance of the 
French cinema may be gained. That it is important is very 
clear, despite the efforts of the cineaste and the cine- 
journalist to prove the contrary. Of the future of the 
French cinema it is impossible to write, for each step will 
depend on the precarious position of the dialogue film. 
Various experiments are being made with sound reproduc- 
tion in France, but at the time of writing, no serious 
realisation has been seen, although several full-length 
dialogue films are said to have been completed. 

1 The French cinema is dealt with in some detail in The History of 
Motion Pictures, Bardeche and Brasillach, translated and edited by 
Iris Barry (W. W. Norton and the Museum of Modern Art, New 
York, 1938). 



312 



EN RADE, directed by Cavalcanti. Catherine Hessling. [French, 1927] 




L'AGE D'OR, directed by Louis Bunuel. [French, 1930] 




WATER FOLK (SECRETS OF NATURE), directed by Percy Smith. [British, 1931 




BLACKMAIL, directed by Alfred Hitchcock. 
Annie Ondra. [British, 1929] 



John Longden, Donald Calthrop, 



IX 

THE BRITISH FILM 

The British film is established upon a hollow foundation. 
Perhaps it would be more significant to write that it rests 
upon a structure of false prestige, supported by the flatulent 
flapdoodle of newspaper writers and by the indifferent 
goodwill of the British people; inasmuch that a film 
emanating from the studios of this country to-day is at 
once enshrouded in a blaze of patriotic glamour by the 
public, who actually feel that the product (with one or two 
notable exceptions) is unworthy of its esteem. 

The whole morale of the modern British cinema is 
extravagantly artificial. It has been built up by favoured 
criticism and tolerance of attitude. If a few critics had 
consistently written the bitter truth about the British film, 
if they had criticised it ruthlessly and stringently according 
to its deserts, I am convinced that this country would have 
revealed at least half-a-dozen thoroughly capable, intelli- 
gent film directors and a group of perspicacious, courageous 
producers. Well-merited castigation would have laid bare, 
and therefore more easily remedied, the root of the evil. 
Instead, there have been British Film Weeks and National 
Film Campaigns which have nourished the cancer in the 
industry. As it is, the British film is spoon-fed by deceptive 
praise and quota regulations, with the unhappy result that 
it has not yet discovered its nationality. 

The British film has never been self-sufficient, in that it 
has never achieved its independence. Leon Moussinac 
writes : ' L'Angleterre n'a jamais prodnit un vrai film 
anglais V a remark that is miserably true. The British film 
lacks honest conception. It has no other aim than that of 
the imitation of the cinema of other countries. For its ob- 
scure source it goes first to the American, and secondly, but 
1 Pcmoramique du Cinema, Leon Moussinac, 1929. 

313 



THE ACTUAL 

more difficult to discern, to the German film. Of one thing 
I am confident, that the British film will never prosper, save 
as the child of the American cinema, until our producers 
bring themselves to recognise the value of experiment. 
Only on exceedingly rare occasions does a producing firm 
in this country countenance a new form of technique, a 
development of outlook, or anything that is alien to their 
conservative methods of working. British studios are rilled 
with persons of third-rate intelligence who are inclined to 
condemn anything that is beyond their range. Producers, 
directors, scenarists, cameramen, art-directors, and their 
confreres are afraid of any new process, in case their feeble 
mentality is not sufficiently clever to grasp its significance. 
We are slow to learn from other film-producing countries, 
but we are always quick to imitate. But the danger lies in 
the disastrous fact that we generally imitate without under- 
standing, without probing to the base of the ideas that we 
adopt (as for example, the mixed technique of Asquith's 
Cottage on Dartmoor and the ill-designed decor of Elvey's 
High Treason). For this reason there has never been any 
school of avant-garde in Britain. I do not suggest that 
an advanced school of cinematic experimentalism is essen- 
tial, but I believe that it would stimulate the directors of 
the commercial cinema. There is, moreover, no school of 
thought for the furtherance of filmic theory, such as is 
found in other countries. There is none of the enthusiasm 
for the progress of the cinema which is so prevalent in 
France, Germany, Soviet Russia, and even America. 1 

On occasions, our studios burst into a flare of latent 
modernism that is usually deplorable. In such a vein was 

1 The first progressive movement distinguishable in British films was, 
in fact, just beginning as this book was written, with Grierson's 
Drifter's (1929) and the establishment of the small E.M.B. Film Unit. 
It was to take more than ten years for the influence of the British 
documentary film movement to make itself felt on feature production, 
and for the studio directors to discover a new realism. Cf. The Fore- 
man Went to France, The Way Ahead, Nine Men, The Overlanders, 
The Stars Look Down, Millions Like Us, Waterloo Road, etc. The 
Ministry of Information Films Division, under Mr. Jack Beddington, 
must be given great credit for intermixing the documentary and studio 
film techniques, as well as interchanging their respective exponents. 

314 



THE BRITISH FILM 

the already mentioned Gaumont-British film, High Treason, 
which was made by a director with over fifty productions 
to his credit. It is not, moreover, as if British studios were 
insufficiently equipped or inadequately staffed. On the 
contrary, the technical resources of Elstree, Welwyn, 
Islington, and Walthamstow are as good as, if not better 
than, those of almost any other country in Europe, a point 
upon which every foreign visitor will agree. The trouble 
lies in the way in which these excellent resources are em- 
ployed. A good film and a bad film pass through the same 
technical process. The amount of good and the amount 
of bad in each depends upon the minds which control the 
instruments. 

It need scarcely be reiterated that Britain is the most 
fertile country imaginable for pure filmic material. Our 
railways, our industries, our towns, and our countryside are 
waiting for incorporation into narrative films. The wealth 
of material is immense. When recently visiting this 
country, S. M. Eisenstein expressed his astonishment at the 
almost complete neglect by British film directors of the 
wonderful material that lay untouched. Why advantage 
had not been taken of these natural resources was excep- 
tionally difficult to explain to a visitor. Oxford, Cam- 
bridge, Liverpool, Shrewsbury, Exeter, the mountains of 
Wales and the highlands of Scotland are all admirable for 
filmic environment. Nothing of any value has yet been 
made of London, probably the richest city in the world for 
cinematic treatment. Grierson alone has produced the 
fine documentary film of the herring fleet, the epic 
Drifters. This film, good as it was, is but a suggestion of 
that which waits to be accomplished. But what British 
company is willing to realise these things? British Inter- 
national Pictures, it is true, have made The Flying Scots- 
man under the direction of Castleton Knight, but what of 
it? Anthony Asquith made Underground, but became lost 
in the Victorian conception of a lift-boy, in place of the 
soul of London's greatest organisation. Instead, our 
studios give forth Variety, Splinters, The Co-optimists, 

315 



THE ACTUAL 

Elstree Calling, A Sister to Assist 'Er, and The American 
Prisoner. 

What has been done with the Empire? It is well, first, to 
recall Epstein's Finis Terrae, Flaherty's Moana, Turin's 
Turksib, and Pudovkin's Storm Over Asia. The material 
lying unused in all parts of India, Kenya, Nigeria, Malta, 
Cyprus, is vast. There have been made A Throw of the 
Dice, Stampede, and Palaver, but what did they tell of 
those rich countries, save a superficial rendering? Without 
proper methods of film construction, without a knowledge 
of the capabilities of the cinema, it were best for this 
wonderful material to be left untouched. 

* 

The root of the trouble in this country lies in the con- 
servative and narrow-minded outlook of the producing 
executives. There are not the men of broad vision, receptive 
to new theories and progressive ideas. (I do not here refer 
to the general adoption of the dialogue cinema, for that 
was a position forced upon British companies by American 
domination.) When the industry underwent a revival some 
years ago, after a decline period of inactivity, British 
producers seriously considered that it was more necessary 
to erect studio-cities than to train the young men who were 
to work in them. Every effort at that time was concen- 
trated on making the public believe that Elstree was the 
new Hollywood; but the public shrewdly reserved its 
judgement until it should see the product of this studio-city. 

Not only this, but producers lack the courage of their 
own convictions. When the dialogue film swept into 
Britain by way of the American-owned theatres in Lon- 
don, several directors in British studios were just beginning 
to grasp the rudimentary principles of film construction. 
They were groping and slowly developing for themselves 
some ideas on the theory of the cinema. But the whole 
studio organisation of this country was thrown into chaos 
by the American revolution of the dialogue film. If only 
one firm had remained level-headed when the tidal wave 
came, I am convinced that the best intelligences in British 

316 



THE BRITISH FILM 

studios would have stood with it and would have acted 
independently of the dialogue innovation. If one company 
had been content with small profits and a gradual increase 
of its output, developing its knowledge of the silent film, 
there would have been some tendency, some initiative, some 
independence in the British cinema of whch to write. As 
it was, the studios tried to transform their inadequate 
knowledge of film-making into ' the new technique ', and 
continued with their slavish imitation of the American 
cinema. 

The importation of foreign talent did not have the same 
influence in British studios as it did at an earlier date in 
Hollywood. It will be remembered that the work of 
Lubitsch, Murnau, Pommer, and Seastrom had serious 
effect on the minds of the younger school of American 
directors. But in Britain, Arthur Robison, E. A. Dupont, 
and Henrik Galeen, three directors of talent, have had no 
effect on the Elstree school. On the contrary, their ideas 
were totally misunderstood and unappreciated in our 
studios. Foreign directors failed to discover in Britain the 
collectivism and team-work so vital to film production. 
They were unable to understand our idea of picture-sense 
and we were at a loss to interpret their filmic outlook. 
{E.g. Robison's The Informer and Galeen's After the 
Verdict; yet these directors had earlier been responsible 
for Warning Shadows, Manon Lescaut and The Student of 
Prague. The conclusion to be drawn is obvious.) Dupont 
alone attained to some measure of success in Piccadily, but 
only because he employed a German cameraman and 
architect. 1 The importation of foreign talent was due to 
the eternal craze for a picture of international appeal. 
Producers were convinced that the inclusion of a foreign 
star would give a film an instant attraction in other 
countries. For this reason, Lya de Putti, Lars Hanson, 
Hans von Schlettow, Anna May Wong, Olga Tschechowa, 

1 Werner Brandes and Alfred Junge; the latter subsequently made his 
home in England and created some of the best sets of the renaissance 
of British films. (E.g. The Canterbury Tale, Colonel Blimp, A Matter 
of Life and Death, etc.) 

317 



THE ACTUAL 

Gilda Gray, and others have played in this country, but the 
advantage is somewhat obscure, save that it has been 
successful in the suppression of natural British talent. 

* 

Analysis of the output of British studios since the war 
is impossible in the same way as has been done with that 
of other countries. Nor, on the other hand, is it proposed 
to give even a brief survey of the commercial development, 
for that has been lightly touched upon at an earlier stage. 
I am unable to discern a realistic, expressionistic, 
naturalistic, decorative, or any other phase in the develop- 
ment of the British cinema. Added to which, there are no 
tendencies to be traced, for British films do not have ten- 
dencies, unless allusion is made to the prevalence of cabaret 
scenes and war themes. I propose, therefore, to examine 
several isolated productions and the work of a few indi- 
vidual directors, who demand some notice. 

Without hesitation, there is one production that is pre- 
eminent in the British cinema, Grierson's film of the herring 
fleet. As far as I am aware, Drifters is the only film pro- 
duced in this country that reveals any real evidence of con- 
struction, montage of material, or sense of cinema as under- 
stood in these pages. Admittedly, Grierson was influenced 
in his work by the rhythmic construction of Eisenstein's 
Battleship Potemkin, but, as has been pointed out elsewhere, 
he gave to Drifters something that was lacking in the cele- 
brated Soviet film. As is now well known, Grierson was 
connected with the preparation of the American version of 
the Soviet picture, and had, therefore, every opportunity to 
analyse the work of Eisenstein at close contact. Although 
Grierson failed to understand completely the construction 
of Battleship Potemkin, he nevertheless contrived to build 
a film of great strength and beauty in Drifters. Like 
Epstein's Finis Terrae and Ford's Iron Horse, the theme of 
Drifters was pure in filmic texture. The ships that sailed 
out at night, the casting of the drifting nets, and the 
climactic race home to give their haul to the markets of the 
nation was splendid film material. The film was filled with 

318 



THE BRITISH FILM 

the beauty of labour and a sense of ships. It lacked, 
possibly, a universal idea of the sea by its concentration on 
detail, but it was so far in advance of normal British pro- 
ductions that to write unfavourably of it would be 
ungenerous. 

There are several directors in and around British studios 
who, in my belief, would realise interesting films were they 
afforded the means. There are also, on the other hand, 
many directors who have failed to make use of ample oppor- 
tunities when they have had them. And again, there is a 
large number of second and third-rate directors on whose 
spasmodic work it is impossible to comment in a book of 
this nature. 

Although Miles Mander 1 has been connected principally 
with acting, he has made one film that provided evidence 
of his wit and intelligence in filmic expression. The First- 
born, made at Elstree two years ago, was almost entirely 
the product of Manders' creative mentality; the story* 
scenario, direction, and principal role being his individual 
work, supported by Madeleine Carroll. In the copy of 
The Firstborn shown to the public, however, the merits of 
the direction and the continuity were rendered almost neg- 
ligible by the poor assembling of the material by the 
distributing firm. It is understood that the film was 
edited without the control of the director by a profes- 
sional cutter, and hence much of Miles Mander's original 
conception was destroyed. As a light commentary on 
married life, flavoured with an environment of semi- 
political domestication, The Firstborn was conceived with 
a nice subtlety of wit. The treatment, especially of the 
eternal arguments and the dinner party, was sophisticated 
and clever. Mander has obviously a shrewd knowledge of 
feminine mentality and succeeded in transferring this into 
his handling of Madeleine Carroll. Had the film been well 
assembled, according to the original manuscript, I believe 
that The Firstborn would have been a unique instance of 
an English domestic tragi-comedy in the cinema, 

iDied, Hollywood, 1946. 

319 



THE ACTUAL 

Probably Anthony Asquith is the most fortunately 
situated of British directors. He has certain ideas on 
cinematic representation, and he is happily able to put them 
into realisation. He has been concerned with four produc- 
tions till now, Shooting Stars, Underground, Princess 
Priscilla's Fortnight, and A Cottage on Dartmoor. That 
he possesses a feeling for cinema was proved by all these 
films, but that he is still groping and undecided in his mind 
as to how to find expression for his ideas is equally plain. 
He has learnt varied forms of treatment from abroad, but 
has not as yet fully understood the logical reason for using 
them. He has studied the Soviet and German cinema, but 
has failed to search deep enough. His technique still 
remains, after four productions, primitively on the surface. 
In his last picture, for example, there were several instances 
of quick cutting and symbolic reference, but they were 
employed because of themselves and not as a contributory 
factor to the film composition. For this reason, Asquith's 
work appears that of a virtuoso, whilst in reality he is 
undecided in his mind as to what to do next. He is legiti- 
mate in borrowing from superior directors only if he 
comprehends that which he borrows and why he has bor- 
rowed it. His films seem principally to lack centralisation 
of purpose. This was exemplified in Underground, which, 
instead of being a direct exposition of the spirit of an 
inanimate organisation (and what superb material) de- 
generated into a movie of London ' types \ All his work 
has been unbalanced and erratic, and it is essential for him 
to lose his Victorian sense of humour before he can 
favourably progress. He has, on the other hand, some 
feeling for the use of dramatic camera angle, some ideas on 
dissolve shots, but an uneven sense of pictorial composition. 
He needs to receive a course in architectural construction in 
order to appreciate proportion; and to realise the relation 
that lies between the visual images and the expression of 
the theme. 

The accredited pre-eminent director of the British school 
is, I suppose, Alfred Hitchcock, whose first dialogue film 

320 




DRIFTERS, directed by John Grierson. [British, 1929] 




NORTH SEA, directed by Harry Watt. [British, 1938] 



THE BRITISH FILM 

Blackmail has been generally accepted as the best of its 
kind. I believe, however, that Hitchcock's most sincere 
work was seen in The Lodger, produced in 1926 for 
Gainsborough. In this thriller melodrama, he displayed a 
flair for clever photographic angles and succeeded in 
creating an atmosphere of a London fog with some con- 
viction. He continued with a series of unpretentious 
pictures, Downhill, Easy Virtue, The Ring, The Farmer's 
Wife, and The Manxman, but did not develop along the 
lines indicated by The Lodger. The production of Black- 
mail, although handicapped by poor narrative interest and 
the inevitable restrictions of dialogue, nevertheless showed 
Hitchcock in a progressive mood. His much commented 
upon use of sound as an emphasis to the drama of the 
visual image was well conceived, but inclined to be over- 
obvious. Incidentally, the silent version was infinitely better 
than the dialogue, the action being allowed its proper 
freedom. 

Although not strictly the work of British technicians, 
Dupont's Piccadilly was undoubtedly the best film of its 
type to be made in this country. It was moderately well 
constructed and expensively finished as such pictures should 
be, but was chiefly notable for the wonderful camerawork 
of Werner Brandes and the delightful settings of Alfred 
Junge. The action was slow where it should have been 
fast, and fast where it should have been slow, but taking 
it as a whole, Piccadilly was the best film to be made by 
British International Pictures. Dupont's first dialogue film, 
however, was an unprecedented example of wasted material. 
The theme was one of the most dramatic that it is possible 
to imagine — the sinking of a great liner. The film was 
based on a play called The Berg, which in turn was 
founded on the Titanic disaster of 1912. The facts 
available to the director were these : the maiden voyage of 
the largest liner in the world, supposed to be unsinkable; 
the striking of a low-lying iceberg; the sinking of the ship 
in less than three hours, with the loss of one thousand five 
hundred and thirteen persons. It was a tremendous situa- 

321 21 



THE ACTUAL 

tion, calling for an intense psychological representation of 
the reactions of the passengers and crew. It could have 
been one of the most powerful films ever made. It was one 
of the stupidest. First, the bathos of the dialogue was 
incredible; secondly, the acting was stage-like, stiff and 
unconvincing; thirdly, the actual shock of the collision was 
completely ineffectual. Technically, the photography was 
flat and uninteresting; the (unnecessary) model shots were 
crude and toy-like; and the mass of nautical errors was 
inexcusable; added to which there was a complete dis- 
crepancy of the water levels as the vessel sank. I can think 
of no other example where so fine a theme has received 
such inadequate treatment. 

Comparison can be made with point between Atlantic and 
Pudovkin's Storm Over Asia. Both had great themes; 
each contained errors of detail. But whereas in the former, 
discrepancies were brought into prominence by the weak 
direction, in Storm Over Asia, the treatment of the film 
as a whole was so impressive that mistakes (in military 
detail, etc.) tended to be overlooked. 



There are three groups of films that merit inclusion. The 
series of reconstructed war events made for New Era and 
British Instructional Films under the producership of 
Bruce Woolfe, by Messrs Geoffrey Barkas, Walter 
Summers, Michael Barringer, etc., including Armageddon, 
Zeebrugge, Mons, The Somme, The Battles of Coronet 
and Falkland Islands and ' Q ' Ships. All these were 
excellent examples of the documentary film. Three 
extremely amusing comedies directed by Ivor Montagu, 
The Cure, Day Dreams, and Bluebottles, from stories by 
H. G. Wells, with the ever-delightful Elsa Lanchester, were 
the best instances of comedy burlesque that I have seen. 
And the numerous Secrets of Nature films, made by British 
Instructional under Bruce Woolfe's producership, have 
always been admirable in conception and execution. They 
are, in fact, the sheet-anchor of the British Film Industry. 

322 



FILMS FROM OTHER COUNTRIES 

There has been frequent mention in these pages of the 
Swedish cinema, which is now almost non-existent. During 
the years immediately following the war, Sweden produced 
a number of films that had great influence on the cinema of 
France and Germany. They were realised with exceptional 
visual beauty, being characterised by their lyrical quality 
of theme and by their slowness of development. For their 
environment, full use was made of the natural landscape 
value of Sweden, whilst their directors were marked by 
their poetic feeling. The themes were for the most part 
tragically conceived and treated from a heavy psychological 
point of view, two qualities that were chiefly responsible for 
the half-hearted acceptance of the Swedish cinema by 
foreign exhibitors and renters. In fact, it may be said 
truthfully that the Swedish film declined and died a natural 
death by reason of its national characteristics of poetic 
feeling and lyricism. Of the directors, most of whom have 
gone to Hollywood, mention must be made of Victor 
Seastrom {The Phantom Carriage, The Tragic Ship, The 
Exiles), Mauritz Stiller {The Atonement of Gosta Berling, 
Arne's Treasure), and John Brunius {Vox Populi, The 
History of Charles XII)} 

Both Italy and Spain are producing films, though, so far 
as I am aware, few of their recent productions have been 
shown outside their country of origin up till the time of 
writing. Before the war, however, Italian films were not 
infrequently presented in Britain, ranging from comedies 
to historical subjects. Of the latter, the most memorable 
is Cabiria, a classical theme from a scenario by Gabriele 

1 A notable omission from this chapter is the Danish Film, which 
before the first World War, was prolific. It was not only the Swedish 
but also the Danish cinema which strongly influenced the German 
directors in the post-war years, 1918-1924. (Cf, footnote, p. 99.) 

323 



THE ACTUAL 

(TAnnunzio. With its extensive cast and elaborate sets — 
such, for instance, as the Temple of Moloch which antici- 
pated the sequence of the Heart Machine in Lang's 
Metropolis — this super production was a remarkable feat 
for 1913, even though its cinematic properties were not 
pronounced. Hungary, Bulgaria, and Czechoslovakia have 
also entered the field of the film industry, but here there is 
as yet little to record. 

By way of contrast, there is at the moment a flourishing 
film industry in Japan, where it is said that over five hun- 
dred productions are realised yearly by some ninety 
directors. This high rate of production, however, has only 
been reached of recent years, having come about through 
the national urge to overcome the American domination 
that took place during the war. Before the outbreak of 
war, Japan relied on France and Italy for supplying her 
programmes, but as was the case in all other countries, 
America took control of the market when the European 
industry was suspended. Directly after the war, Japanese 
production began to develop and it was not long before 
several companies were formed. 

Until the present, the Japanese cinema has been too 
closely allied to the traditions of the theatre for there to 
have been any individual cinematic tendencies. For a long 
time the film was regarded as inferior to the stage, suitable 
only for the entertainment of the lower classes. For sub- 
ject matter, also, the cinema relied largely on traditional 
costume plays, resulting in a large number of stylised, 
historical films adapted from conventional pieces of the 
past. These were notable for their beauty of setting and 
their excellent photography, being of particular interest as 
reconstructions of old Japanese customs and traditions. 
Moreover, another reason for the predominance of the 
historical film is the vigilance with which the censorship 
observes all pictures dealing with contemporary moral or 
social matters. Despite this, however, there are a certain 
number of modern themes produced, especially comedies, 
dealing with the peasantry and the lower middle classes. 

324 



M 



s m & 



THE PHANTOM CARRIAGE, directed by Victor Seastrom. [Swedish, 191 9] 




THE ATONEMENT OF GOSTA BERLING, directed by Mauritz Stiller. 
Greta Garbo, Lars Hanson. [Swedish, 1923] 



FILMS FROM OTHER COUNTRIES 

The two prominent producing companies are the 
Nikkatsu and the Soetsiku, and although the latter was 
formerly the more important, it has now been superseded 
by the Nikkatsu. As in Soviet Russia, each concern has its 
own set of production units and players, there being little 
interchange of personnel. The Nikkatsu is said to employ 
the best acting material, having also at its command experts 
in Japanese antiquity and historical matters to supervise 
the traditional subjects. The Soetsiku, on the other hand, 
is more modern in its outlook and attempts to produce films 
of the naturalistic type with contemporary material, several 
of its technicians having learnt their trade in Hollywood 
studios. The chief studios are at Kamata, with a staff 
numbering about a thousand (including fifty directors), 
where only films on modern subjects are realised. The 
speed of production is astonishing, a full-length picture 
being completed in anything from a fortnight to a month, 
as compared to the usual six weeks or two months in Europe 
and America. This high rate of production is due to the 
Japanese desire to break down any attempt at American 
domination, a lesson which the British might well learn. 

In India, also, there are a great number of films realised 
by purely native production units. Although the indigenous 
product is technically far inferior to the American and 
European films shown in India, nevertheless the former 
finds more favour with the vast Indian public. The 
majority of pictures are versions of well-known tales of 
Hindu mythology and religion, clumsily put together with 
many long-winded titles in several languages. The average 
length of a film seems to be about ten thousand feet, the 
audience being apparently willing to sit through any 
amount of film so long as it deals with a favourite subject. 
Moreover, owing to the differences of religion, the censor 
authorities have great difficulty in granting permission for 
exhibition in the various districts. There have also been 
a number of Indian pictures made by European producing 
companies, but most of these are singularly uninteresting 
(Nuri the Elephant, Shiraz, A Throw of the Dice). 

325 



PART TWO 
THE THEORETICAL 



I 

THE AIM OF THE FILM IN GENERAL AND 
IN PARTICULAR 

Analysis of the film is, perhaps, more difficult than that 
of any of the other arts. Since its beginning in the days of 
the Lumiere brothers and Friese-Greene, the film has 
grown, retraced its steps, sprung in different directions at 
the same time, been hampered and impeded on all sides, in 
the most remarkable way, without any stock really being 
taken of its properties and possessions. Its very nature of 
light revealed by moving form defies systematic cataloguing 
of its capabilities. Its essentially mechanical basis is apt 
to lead the observer and the student up blind alleys. No 
medium of expression calls for such a wide variation of 
technical accomplishment as does the film. In literature, it 
is possible to check and to investigate new developments 
with comparative ease in contrast with the cinema; and as 
the late Arnold Bennett pointed out more than once, it is 
an insuperable task to keep abreast with modern literature. 
But even in literature, books in libraries or in one's own 
possession can be consulted, whereas when a film has had 
its limited run of a few weeks, access to it for examination 
or reference is a difficult matter. So few facts are actually 
put on record concerning current films that it is quite con- 
ceivable that a time may come when such important pictures 
as Mother and Metropolis will be but names at which future 
generations will wonder. Little record, even now, remains 
of some of the earlier German films made shortly after the 
war, whilst copies themselves become scarce as time goes 
on, either through wear or through accident. 1 Personal 

1 For example, there is, I believe, only one complete copy of The 
Cabinet of Doctor Caligari in existence, and certainly only one copy of 
Dracula, which is never likely to be shown unless privately. Of The 
Peasant Women of Riazan there is only a limited number of copies, the 
master negative being destroyed by fire. The same applies to The Golem, 
The Mystic Mirror, and Destiny. See footnote 1 on page 330. 

329 



THE THEORETICAL 

experience, also, is necessarily restricted and seldom put on 
record. El Greco's Agony in the Garden may be con- 
sulted at almost any time with convenience, but in the case 
of a film it is only possible to rely on memory for reference, 
a precarious method of analysis. 1 

Furthermore, even to see a film is not necessarily to 
observe all its values, as Mr. Eric Elliott has remarked. 2 
Scientific tests have shown that only sixty per cent, of a 
film is seen by an observer. What then of the remaining 
forty per cent. ? The difficulty has, of course, been intensi- 
fied by the introduction of the synchronised dialogue film 
and its accompanying sound. The loss to the visual image 
whilst the audience is trying to understand the dialogue 
must be great. It follows naturally, as in criticism of 
painting and music, that the better the dramatic construc- 
tion of a film the more difficult it becomes to analyse that 
construction. The critic himself is inclined to fall under 
the power of the story, and another and more impartial 
viewing is necessary in order to appraise the numerous 
technical values. 

A tremendous handicap is also experienced in illustrating 
filmic argument. It is possible only to suggest the different 
methods of film technique, of montage and of continuity, by 
giving examples that have been actually observed, taken 
from productions of all dates. In some cases the quoted 
instances may have been seen by others, but when the total 

1 Since the above was written, there have been set up several museums 
and film archives, most important of which are the Museum of Modern 
Art Film Library, New York, the Cinematheque Francaise, Paris, the 
National Film Library, London, and the Czechoslovak Film Archive, 
Prague. In 1938, these bodies met and set up the International Federa- 
tion of Film Archives. The Film Library in New York has done 
especially fine work, not only in preserving and making available for 
study important films of all countries, but in compiling programme notes, 
issuing pamphlets, holding special exhibitions and collecting probably 
the best library of books and other printed matter about the film in the 
world. Its Curator, Miss Iris Barry, is a distinguished film historian 
and critic of many years' experience, and the excellence of the Film 
Library is mainly a result of her devotion to the cinema. 

2 Vide, The Anatomy of the Motion Picture, by Eric Elliott (Pool, 
1928). 

330 



THE AIM OF THE FILM 

film output for one year alone is considered, chances are 
against this. Furthermore, mere verbal descriptions are 
totally inadequate to convey the emotions excited by a film. 
It is, perhaps, to a certain extent possible to analyse the 
cause of these emotions, and from this point of view must 
examples be approached. For instance, it is beyond the 
power of my literary description to convey the mental and 
physical reactions to sequences of short-cutting and cross- 
cutting in Eisenstein's Ten Days that Shook the World, but 
one is able, I think, to explain the use of the method, how 
and why it was employed, and its place in the continuity 
and rhythmic structure of the film as a whole. 

At a comparatively early stage, the cinema presented a 
range of values far beyond the complete understanding of 
any one human mind. For all intents and purposes a bad 
film passes through the same mechanical processes of 
studio, camera, and laboratory as a good one. The tech- 
nical resources available to the film director when he is 
making his picture are without number. He can choose 
between tracking shots and direct cutting, between panning 
and flying cameras, between slow and ultra-rapid motion. 
He has available every conceivable means for the 
exposition on the screen of his selected theme. So wide are 
the resources in technical devices that theoretically there 
should be no reason for the making of bad films save the 
sheer incompetence of the director. He has crews of (in 
most cases) willing technicians to fulfil his orders, and in 
some studios almost unlimited money to spend in order to 
achieve the desired effect. Yet a survey of the film output 
since the first World War up till 1930 shows that the pro- 
portion of films in which full use has been made of technical 
resources is very small indeed. The reason probably is that 
before the child has learnt the power of his new toy, he is 
presented with another by the kind inventors. Moreover, 
there is no one to instruct him in the use of this fresh 
device. He can only experiment, and watch out of the 
corner of his eye to see how other people are using it. A 
director is given a camera * dolly ' with which to play, and 

331 



THE THEORETICAL 

finding he can travel his camera all round the set, proceeds 
to do so in the film he is making at the moment, until he is 
interrupted by some more engineers who have brought 
along another device. Seldom does a director realise the 
absolute advantages to be derived from a new form of 
technical accomplishment and employ them with restraint 
in the right place and with the greatest effect. Instances of 
such virtuosity are innumerable. Travelling shots were 
employed for the first time in a German film, and almost 
immediately they became commonplace. They were used on 
every occasion, with total disregard to the nature of the 
action portrayed. Karl Freund once used a flying camera for 
a certain scene in Metropolis, because the upward flying 
movement of the instrument emphasised the struggle which 
Gustav Frohlich and Brigitte Helm were experiencing in 
escaping upwards from the flood of water. A few months 
later, flying cameras swooped like locusts around Holly- 
wood. Patient audiences were whirled across the room to 
look at a boot, because Lewis Stone looked at it in The 
Patriot. More recently, directors have been given the 
golden opportunity to let their players speak. The babel that 
ensues at the moment is appalling. It only remains for the 
stereoscopic screen and the all-colour film to come into 
general use for the director to have no excuse at all for pro- 
ducing a bad film. But there will be more bad films made 
than ever before, because all the technical resources of the 
cinema will form one great bundle of virtuosity, out of 
which only a few balanced minds will be able to picK the 
good from the bad. Chaos will be even greater than it is 
now, if such a state of affairs is conceivable. 



During the last few years there has been much diversity 
of opinion as to what constitutes cinema in its purest form. 
Many believe that the presentations at the Avenue Pavilion 
in London used to represent true film art; others vaguely 
suggest Soviet films but call them Russian. Some talk 

332 



THE AIM OF THE FILM 

loftily of the avant-garde of the French film and the 
numerous little Paris specialist cinemas; a few recall the 
great middle period of the German cinema. Whilst on all 
sides, from those who know, comes the mixed thunder of 
so many Potemkins and Tartuffes, Bed and Sofas and 
Chien Andalous. Nothing is very clear, which after all is 
quite understandable when we consider the almost hopeless 
tangle of ideas which strangles the arts as a whole at the 
present time. Conflicting opinions alternately cancel one 
another out; groups propound theories quite enigmatical 
to any save themselves; whilst advanced schools of thought 
are found in almost every country. That there is a new 
spirit moving in the theatre, in literature, in painting, in 
archtecture, and in the other arts is evident. It has 
scarcely touched Britain at all, and is at its strongest in 
Germany and Soviet Russia. But that it exists, and is to 
be found in some aspects of the cinema, is beyond doubt. 
The film is inclined to reflect the backwash of all these 
developments, holding up a mirror, as it were, to the current 
theories of art, sociology, and culture. Occasionally the 
spirit bursts forth into an outstanding and remarkable film, 
as in the case of Bunuel's Un Chien Andalou or Erno 
Metzner's Ueberfall, but more often the cinema reflects the 
ideas of some two or three years earlier, such as the 
American and British pictures which have interior decora- 
tion taken direct from the Exposition des Arts Decoratifs 
of 1925 {e.g. the design by Cedric Gibbons in Our Dancing 
Daughters and that by Hugh Gee for Tesha). But it is 
perhaps possible to clarify the air by retrospection and to 
establish some sort of idea as to the present position of the 
film in relation to its surroundings. 

It has been admitted that the silent film is essentially an 
independent form of expression, drawing inspiration from 
the other arts. With choreography it shares the power of 
movement; and with painting, mental communication 
through the eye. The recent dialogue film suggests com- 
parison with the stage and its power of speech. Aestheti- 
cally, dialogue is in direct opposition to the medium, unless 

333 



THE THEORETICAL 

pure sound as distinct from the human voice is utilised 
from an impressionistic point of view. 

But all art, whether painting, sculpture, music, poetry, 
drama, or film, has at base the same motive, which may be 
said to be the creation of a work in the presence of which 
an observer or listener will experience either pleasure or 
pain as the mood of the work demands. Moreover, it has 
been suggested that these reactionary emotions are aroused 
in the mind of the observer or listener by rhythm, either 
harmonic or discordant, which is determined by such mani- 
festations of the various media as linear design, contrast 
in light and shade, metre, colour sensation, variations in 
light intensities, counterpoint, editing and cutting. Whether 
the spectator be highbrow, lowbrow, or mezzobrow, pro- 
vided the creator of the work has expressed himself clearly 
in his medium, the appeal is the same though its power must 
vary in accordance with the mental receptivity of the 
spectator. 

In the case of the film, it is this receptive power of the 
audience en masse which the Americans and the Soviets, 
the Germans and the French are trying to calculate, in order 
to render a work of art a popular success. That their 
methods should be different is naturally obvious when their 
respective national temperaments and the circumstances 
which govern production are considered. It has been seen 
that whilst Hollywood relies chiefly on the star-system and 
sex-appeal, Soviet Russia attempts to rouse the emotions of 
her own public by having in her films a definite applied 
purpose, preferably of contemporary social importance, and 
by the creation of rhythm — the basic motive of reactions — 
by means of a highly developed process of editing. 

It has been written that ' in theorising about the cinema 
there are certain points which must be borne in mind and 
which should form the basis of all constructive criticism. 
In the first place, the cinema is dependent for its life on the 
good opinion of the public, and the average citizen is 
aesthetically indifferent/ (Vernon J. Clancey writing in 
The Cinema, 4th September 1929.) This may be true, but 

334 



THE AIM OF THE FILM 

it should be remembered that the resources of the cinema, 
by which good directors seek to gain their effect on the 
minds of the audience, act unconsciously. An average 
citizen is naturally not expected to appreciate or even to 
become conscious of the montage of shots that appear 
before him on the screen, but he cannot help himself 
reacting to their content if they have been employed 
correctly. Soviet films, for instance, are made primarily 
to appeal to the mind of the working man, the labourer and 
the peasant, and arc in most cases constructed with the 
essence of simplicity. We know that it is only because 
Soviet Russia has evolved her own theories of cinemato- 
graphy, that she has learnt how to use the properties of the 
film in their correct manner and to extract the utmost out 
of them. I find it hard to believe that any audience exists, 
taken at random in any cinema, which would not react 
immeasurably to the double-exposed, interrupted cutting of 
the machine-gun sequence in Ten Days that Shook the 
World. The reaction, however, would not be caused only 
by the dramatic value of the machine gun and the scattering 
crowd, but by the cinematic treatment of the incident. It 
would thrill and hold any audience with tremendous inten- 
sity. By way of contrast, it is only necessary to refer to 
similar scenes in such films as What Price Glory?, The Big 
Parade, and Poppies in Flanders to realise how Eisenstein 
relied on the subconscious mental qualities of the audience, 
qualities which he preconceived when cutting this incident. 
Only by such means as these, arising out of the 
attributes of the medium, can an audience be really stirred 
from its accustomed passiveness. 

There has not been as yet, however, any scientific inquiry 
into the emotional effect produced by films on the public. 
It is well known that the simplest effects on the human 
mind connote the most subtle causes, being much more 
difficult to achieve than complex effects. Nursery rhymes 
and limericks, for instance, take as much, if not more 
trouble to compose than a lengthy piece of heroic verse. 
Chaplin alone is a superb example of the individual appeal 

335 



THE THEORETICAL 

to the public. He has taken the trouble to think how and 
why audiences throughout the world react to his indivi- 
duality. All Chaplin films are brilliant instances of timing 
that have been effected only by analysis of the human mind, 
in the same manner as the Soviets' investigations and 
Pabst's absorption in psycho-analysis. 

' Art ', said the post-impressionists, ' is not truth, it is not 
nature; it is a pattern or rhythm of design imposed on 
nature.' The analogy to the film is at once apparent. 

A film is primarily a dynamic pattern or rhythm 
(achieved by the editing and cutting) imposed on nature 
(the material taken, preferably the reality). It is governed 
pictorially by the use of light and movement in the creation 
of visual images, and mentally by psychology in the creation 
of mental images. Music and synchronised sound, used in 
counterpoint and contrapuntally, heighten the emotions of 
the spectator aurally and subconsciously. This dynamic 
mental pictorialism is, I claim, the most powerful form of 
expression available to-day to a creative artist. 

In this theoretical section of the survey we shall be con- 
cerned primarily with two comparatively simple aspects of 
film creation, namely : the choice of a theme, which is to be 
a film's argument, its raison d'etre; and the two steps in 
the expression of that theme, first, by scenario representa- 
tion in literary form, and secondly, by the numerous ortho- 
dox technical methods peculiar to the cinema for the 
transference of the matter contained in the scenario on to 
the screen. This last step may be called the grammar of 
the film, arising out of its self-developed properties, and 
will be the subject of the two succeeding chapters. Investi- 
gation has already been made of a great number of films 
and their individual directors, but admittedly we have 
examined little more than the themes (or thematic narra- 
tive interest) of the films in question and the methods 
adopted for realisation by their directors. We have, as yet, 
to understand that there lies something beyond a theme and 
its technical expression, namely, the conception, attitude of 
mind, or creative impulse of the director himself, 

336 



THE AIM OF THE FILM 

It is fairly apparent that a distinction can be made 
between the methods of expression employed by different 
directors. For example, it would not be difficult to dis- 
tinguish between a film made by Lubitsch and a film made 
by Pabst, although the theme in both films was identical. 
It would simply be the matter of a distinction between 
methods of approach. Further, we know that Eisenstein 
constructs his films by a process of impulsive editing (based 
on complex forethought), according to his judgement of the 
material as being expressive of his principles of tonal and 
over-tonal montage. That is to say, we acknowledge that 
he selects his shots and determines their screen-length by 
the physiological-psychological sensations gained from their 
visual qualities and not (as does Dziga-Vertov) by a purely 
metric process of the number of frames to a shot. These 
are merely niceties of expression which are capable of being 
appreciated by every intelligent observer who is familiar 
with the principles of filmic representation. 

But when we see and hear a film, or rather when we 
accept a film, we are conscious of something beyond its 
theme and technical expression. We become aware of the 
director. Our acceptance of the director's creative impulse, 
however, is governed by our degree of sensitivity, for we 
may or we may not be receptive to his inner urge of expres- 
sion. We are possibly going to achieve contact with his 
creative impulse, whereby we shall appreciate his work to 
the fullest extent, or we are possibly only going to accept 
his theme by the simple technical methods adopted by him. 
In this way, we must distinguish between, on the one hand, 
a theme and its filmic expression and, on the other, the 
creative impulse of a director. It is one thing to accept 
The End of St. Petersburg and Ten Days that Shook the 
World as themes and examples of film technique, but quite 
another to accept through them the creative mentalities of 
Pudovkin and Eisenstein. 

In this respect, therefore, it is clear that we are concerned 
not with the collective acceptance of a film by a number of 
persons, which is a matter of technical expression, but with 

337 22 



THE THEORETICAL 



the appreciation, according to degrees of sensitivity, that 
arises in the individual spectator. This is and must always 
be a matter of personal acceptance. 



A film demands that a theme — either personal, im- 
personal or inanimate — shall be presented to the mind 
through the eye by the flowing relation and inter-relation 
of a succession of visual images projected on a screen. It 
further requires the theme to be emphasised by the full 
range of cinematic resources : by the use of the intimate 
to reinforce the general at a similar moment or in develop- 
ment; by the instantaneous pictorial vision of more than one 
idea at the same time; by symbolism and suggestion; by 
the association of ideas and shapes; by the varying high 
and low tensions caused by rhythmic cutting ; by variation 
in the intensities of light; by the contrast and similarity of 
sounds; by all the intrinsic properties peculiar to the 
medium of the film. The film possesses the power of 
expanding and contracting the centre of interest, and of 
comparison by rapid change of the relationship of the 
trivial to the essential. By these means may the audience 
be compelled to accept the dramatic meaning of the theme 
and to realise its continually developing content. 

Added to which, it is imperative that a film should be 
distinguished by a unity of purpose and should be single- 
minded in intention. According to the treatment of the 
theme, the dramatic incidents of the narrative may not be 
of primary interest to the audience, but rather the effect of 
these incidents on the characters who have provoked them 
by their behaviour. Again, the theme may be inanimate, 
recording the structure of some great organisation or 
industry, or expressive of some vast undertaking. And 
again, it may develop the intimate personality of a single 
being by plaiting together as a unified whole a continuity of 
selected incidents, which singly are of little significance. 

In this manner, by utilising the means arising out of the 
nature of the medium itself, the film sets out to be a form 

338 



THE AIM OF THE FILM 

of expression, presenting persons, objects, and incidents 
in a way entirely different from any other medium, and 
utilising resources unavailable in other means of artistic 
expression. It will be seen also that such values as ' acting ' 
and sets become but raw material for assembly in the final 
film construction. The complete insignificance of the star- 
system in this respect is obvious. In fact, I even suggest 
that there is no such thing as ' film acting \ 

Provided that it is conceived in a filmic sense, the subject- 
matter of a film may be derived from anywhere. Every 
human thought, every incident of life or imagination can 
inspire a theme. The history of the world is a storehouse 
from which themes may be drawn at will. Choice can only 
be governed by sociological reasons; whether it be of 
interest or of no appeal to an audience. In the case of the 
fiction film, it is necessary for the plot to be well balanced 
and well constructed. Most good films are marked by the 
simplicity of their themes and their logical development of 
action. The theme may be found in a play, a novel, a 
magazine, a novelette, a newspaper, a history book, a 
memoir, an encyclopaedia, a dictionary or a fifteenth- 
century incunable. Better still, in the case of the semi- 
fiction picture, it can be found in the street, in the trains, 
in the factories or in the air. 

There is a wealth of cinematic inspiration, for instance, 
in the paintings of the Flemish and early Dutch painters. 
For La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc, Dreyer went to the best 
possible source of inspiration in the medieval French 
miniatures, whilst in his crowd scenes there was the 
influence of Bruegel. The atmosphere of Murnau's Faust 
was gained through an intimate knowledge of the work and 
feeling of Diirer, of his grand pictorial value, whilst again 
there was a hint of Bruegel in the types of the townspeople 
in the plague-stricken city. Bosch, the Van Eycks, Lucas 
van Leyden, Hans Baldung Grein, and particularly the 
beasts of Lucas Cranach, have a definite filmic feeling that 
may be sensitively used for inspiration. El Greco, Goya, 
and more especially Honore Daumier are rich in influential 

339 



THE THEORETICAL 

matter. The amazing types in Eisenstein's The General Line 
and Turin's Turksib recall the heads of Diirer and Holbein 
in their rich quality. In the film, it is possible to use such 
wonderful wrinkled features and twisted beards with great 
dramatic effect. Nearly all Soviet films are noted for their 
beautiful close-ups of striking heads, perhaps, held only for 
a flash on the screen. But, as has been pointed out else- 
where, this influence of painting and engraving does not 
in any way signify the transference of a painting on to the 
screen. The illustrious Mr. De Mille showed his sublime 
ignorance of this in that travesty, The King of Kings. 

It is obviously quite unnecessary to commission a cele- 
brated author to write a story * specially for the screen \ 
In all probability the celebrated author has not the least con- 
ception of the cinema, being chiefly concerned with the 
writing of novels, which he undoubtedly does very well. 
Again and again the lament of novelists is heard that their 
books have been ruined by adaptation to the screen. In 
many cases, they claim to fail to recognise their own 
characters and say that the plot has been distorted beyond 
redemption. This is due, first, to the absolute necessity to 
transpose the theme of any novel from literary into cine- 
matic terms; and secondly, to the deplorable habits of 
wealthy producing firms, which frequently buy best-sellers 
at random without any consideration of their filmic value. 
Three outstanding instances of this pernicious habit may 
be found in : Universal purchasing the rights of All Quiet 
on the Western Front; Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer trying to 
make The Bridge of San Luis Rey into a film; and The 
Case of Sergeant Grischa being bought and given to 
Herbert Brenon, a sentimentalist director, to make. Yet 
another example, somewhat different, was Ufa's complete 
metamorphosis of the psychological situation in Leonhard 
Frank's Karl and Anna, a book that was already filmic, 
into a film called Homecoming. The greater number of 
film adaptations from literature are failures simply because 
scenarists attempt to embody a large amount of literary 
material in the relatively small space of a film. 

340 



THE AIM OF THE FILM 

When it is said that the visual images from which a film 
is built are light revealed by moving form, it is perhaps wise 
to qualify this statement. It is clear that there are at least 
four different movements present in the cinema, each of 
which has a definite bearing on the construction and pre- 
conception of a film. These may be said to be : 

1. The actual movements of people, animals, and 
things (such as trains, motor-cars, trees, lifts, shadows, 
clouds, smoke, waves), being the movements of the material 
photographed in a single shot and which are the elements 
of the pictorial composition of the visual image on the 
screen. 

2. The movement or mobility of the camera itself, being 
such movements as panning, travelling, and crane shots. 

3. The movement existing through time and space 
between one visual image and the succeeding one in the 
progression of shots on the screen, by which may be under- 
stood the term continuity or fluidity of the development of 
the thematic narrative. This may alternatively be called 
the theory of intervals existing between one frame of film 
and another in direct cutting; giving rise to varying reac- 
tions from sudden shock to smooth transfusion in the spec- 
tator. By this means of assembling or mounting is the 
complete film composition constructed. 

4. The movement of the screen itself, as has been 
publicly seen in the magnascope, or enlarged screen, and in 
the triptych, which is the ordinary central screen with a 
flanking screen on either side. 

Each of these movements plays an important part in the 
expression of the dramatic content of the theme and in its 
construction. 

Moreover, it should be understood that every visual 
image that appears on the flat screen on which a film is 
projected, is governed by contrasted intensities of light. 
The screen itself has no real interest, except in the final 
form of cinematic movement indicated above. Light on 
the cinematograph screen is rendered significant by means 
of form. It is form (i.e. the subject-material which is 

341 



THE THEORETICAL 

photographically recorded on strips of celluloid by the 
camera) that gives variations in intensity to the projected 
light. By means of such visually satisfying images their 
content or meaning is conveyed to the mind of the spectator 
through the eye. From a filmic point of view, the signifi- 
cance of form of the subject-material does not lie in its 
own properties but in its capability to reveal the variations 
of the intensity of the projected light. 1 

These principles of movement and intensity of light are 
the fundamental properties of the cinematic medium. Each 
will be found considered at length as it arises in the sections 
that follow on the medium as a means of expression of 
dramatic content. It is imperative, however, to establish 
such degrees of movement and principles of light before a 
general examination of the other properties of the film is 
possible. 

1 An admirable example of this was provided by Francis Bruguiere 
and Oswell Blakeston's film Light Rhythms, in which the material con- 
sisted of static designs in cut paper over which various intensities of 
light were moved. The appeal of the film lay in the changing light 
values, which were revealed by the cut paper patterns. 



342 



II 

THE PRECONCEPTION OF DRAMATIC 
CONTENT BY SCENARIO ORGANISATION 

A film is essentially characterised by a unity of purpose 
which is present from the first to the last visual image 
projected on to the screen. This unity of idea, or central 
purpose, is unfolded shot by shot, sequence by sequence, and 
may be called the theme, or in the case of the fiction film, 
the thematic narrative. 

It is strictly possible for an entire film to be preconceived 
in almost exact anticipation of every shot, except in such 
cases where sudden conditions (such as rain or mist) should 
occur during shooting, when some alteration in the scenario 
is justified. No single shot should be regarded as an 
isolated fragment, but must be reckoned as part of the 
moving pattern of shots and sequences out of which the film 
is constructed. Every shot of the many hundred that go 
to make up a full-length film is related to the preceding 
and succeeding shots, so that the complete film is related 
rhythmically. 

A film is built, and the process of building has well been 

called montage. 1 The process of film construction is 

mathematical in its precision. It may be compared to 

building with a box of bricks. The unity of a film 

is achieved by the combination of the three acts of 

montage. Montage may be understood as the inclusive, 

creative, and constructive unity that is present from the 

birth of the first gleam of idea in the mind of the 

scenarist, to the final act of assembling the film strips by 

constructive editing and cutting. A film is brought into 

being by the development of the preconceived theme by 

1 Oxford Dictionary (1929) definition : ' Selection, cutting and piecing 
together as a consecutive whole of the separate shots taken in the 
making of a film. (F, f, monter to mount).' 

343 



THE THEORETICAL 

cine-organisation of the three forms of montage thus : 

(a) The assembling of the thematic narrative, first in 
the mind; secondly, in treatment form; and then in the 
shape of a shooting-script; including the reasoning employed 
in the choice of theme out of the countless available (as 
indicated in the previous chapter). 

(b) The assembling of the material (as dictated by the 
shooting-script) that is to be photographed in the studio or 
on location, based on the power of observation and under- 
standing of human nature possessed by the director, and 
its expression by the use of the full resources of the medium. 

(c) The assembling of the strips of film bearing upon 
them the photographic images, in variations of length, light, 
movement of material, and intellectual values calculated to 
produce the greatest effect on an audience. 

Cine-organisation is thus to be reckoned as the dominant 
factor of film production, for it controls the three acts of 
montage which create the film, make it a reality, and invest 
it with emotional power. A film is not significant as a 
dramatic expression unless the three acts of montage have 
been completely welded together in harmony. 

The director is the sole controlling mind that organises 
the forms of montage. It is he who commands the fulfil- 
ment of cine-organisation. If a mistake should occur during 
any process of the three acts of montage, then the whole 
composition of the film may be thrown out of order. The 
director is to be considered as the central organiser of a 
number of workers (the scenarist, cameraman, designer, 
etc.), all of whose actions are in direct fulfilment of his 
wishes. The team work of a production unit is a natural 
outcome of the characteristics of the medium of the film. 
Although the construction of a film usually takes the fol- 
lowing order of processes, viz. : 

(a) The choice of theme, the treatment of theme, the 
shooting-script. 

(b) The selection of acting material. 

(c) The construction of studio settings and location of 
exteriors. 

344 



PRECONCEPTION OF DRAMATIC CONTENT 

(d) The filming of the material as indicated by the 
shooting-script. 

(e) The assembling of material (i.e. the strips of cellu- 
loid) by constructive editing and cutting, as indicated 
in the shooting-script, 

it is not possible to divide this construction into indepen- 
dent stages, as is frequently done in large commercial 
studios. The work of each stage is directly contributory 
to the whole film composition, being controlled, as stated 
above, by the director. Thus absolute collectivism is an 
essential of efficient cine-organsaton. 



Examination may now be made of the first act of 
montage, that is to say the assembling of the scenario. It 
has been seen in the preceding chapter that the variety of 
themes available to the director, scenarist or producer, is 
almost infinite, and that choice can only be governed by 
sociological or political reasons, or, in cases of the general 
commercial film, by whether a selected theme will be of 
interest to a large number of persons. For the simplifica- 
tion of argument, therefore, it may be assumed that a 
theme has been chosen. This theme is to be reckoned as the 
root-basis of the scenario. It is the motive for the realisa- 
tion of the film and its entire justification as a means of 
expression, other, that is, than the creative impulse of the 
director. The theme indicates action, by which its meaning 
will be propounded. The action of the scenario is built up 
from a number of incidents and situations brought about 
by the characters and the relationship that exists between 
them. This, obviously, is determined by the imagination 
of the scenarist or director, being either a creative product 
or an adaptation from a literary work. The actional interest 
of the theme is set in an environment, which is either sug- 
gested by the nature of the theme, or is chosen as being 
suitable by the director. The general colour or atmosphere 
of the film is determined by the environment, and must be 
present in the film from beginning to end. Even a land- 

345 



THE THEORETICAL 

scape, a piece of architecture, a natural condition of the 
weather, is to be absorbed into the developing action. The 
action and the environment are, in fact, inseparable. 

At this stage, with the theme, the action and the setting 
decided, it is possible for the treatment to be written. This 
will consist of a descriptive narrative of the visual poten- 
tialities of the theme. Although written in purely narrative 
form, it will suggest clearly the filmic possibilities of the 
idea. It will not, however, be divided into terms of 
individual shots, which is strictly a matter of the organi- 
sation of the detailed shooting-manuscript, or plan. This 
latter is the final stage of the scenario-organisation and is 
the key from which the director will work. 

In order that the completed film composition may be a 
unity, the entire expression of the theme as it will eventually 
appear on the screen is preconceived in the mind of the 
scenarist, and is set down by him shot by shot, scene by 
scene, sequence by sequence, in the form of a shooting- 
script. This preliminary literary expression of the concept 
contains the style, that is, the method of realisation, which 
the director will adopt during the taking and editing of the 
materal. The film manuscript is thus built out of at least 
a thousand separate shots, each dependent for effect on the 
other. By means of this composition of shots (eventually 
consummated by the editing, or final act of montage) the 
film is caused to vibrate as a whole, thus giving rise to 
various emotional reactions in the mind of the audience. 

The qualities needed for this literary expression of the 
theme in filmic terms, the importance of which cannot be 
over-emphasised, are intense concentration and clarity of 
perception and visualisation. Preconception of the film 
shooting-manuscript makes exhaustive claims on the crea- 
tive mentality of the director or scenarist. In a novel, a 
writer develops his theme by written descriptions; in a 
play, an author makes use of dialogue and stage directions; 
but a film scenarist thinks and works in terms of externally 
expressive visual images. A scenarist must always visualise 
his thoughts in terms of images on a screen in a cinema; 

346 



PRECONCEPTION OF DRAMATIC CONTENT 

he must, moreover, be able to control, select, and organise 
the imaginary images as does a writer his words. He must 
be continually aware that each shot he describes and in- 
cludes in his manuscript will eventually assume visual form 
on the screen. It is, therefore, not his words which are of 
importance, but the visual images that they define for the 
use of the director. The assembling of the film manuscript 
is, perhaps, the most exacting form of expressive writing. 
It demands without question even greater powers of con- 
centration than the writing of a novel or the painting of a 
picture. Comparison may well be made with the composing 
of a symphony. 

The director-scenarist 1 has, first, to create his theme in 
the form of mental imagery; then to express those images 
in literary terms in the form of a treatment ; and finally to 
compose them in the shooting-script by employing every 
resource peculiar to the film for conveyance of dramatic 
content to the spectator. It is essential that the director- 
scenarist should have the fullest knowledge of filmic 
methods of expression, with which he can only acquaint 
himself by the study of other films and by experiment. 
Every property of pictorial composition, symbolism and 
suggestion, contrast and similarity in the association of 
ideas and shapes, the drama of camera angle, the rhythm 
achieved by various processes of editing and cutting, the 
technical accomplishment of camera mobility, trick devices, 
and the possibilities of studio settings, must be in the 
mind of the director, to be utilised in the right place, so that 
the dramatic content of the theme may be expressed with 
the greatest possible emotional effect. For the expression 
of every concept, there are a thousand and one shots at the 

1 Theoretically, the only possible writer of the film manuscript is the 
director, who alone is capable of transferring to paper the preconception 
of the film he is about to make. The theme, action, and environment 
may, however, be suggested to the director, who will translate them into 
his own terms of filmic expression. The special scenario depart- 
ments for the mass production of films that are to be found in all big 
studios are ignored here. Their work can only consist of sorting and 
cataloguing possible material for themes, and the reader is referred, in 
this respect, to the scenario-bureaux of the Soviet cinema. (Cf. foot- 
note, p. 220.) 

347 



THE THEORETICAL 

disposal of the director, and it is assumed for the purposes 
of argument that there is no angle or position from which 
an object, person, or scene cannot be photographed, both 
terminals of the shot (the object and the camera) being 
either static or in motion. It is the task of the scenarist 
to select from the infinite number of shots in his imagina- 
tion, those which are the most vividly expressive, in order 
that they may bring out the full significance of the scene, as 
required by the theme. The procedure of the shooting-script 
is the preliminary representation on paper of the eventual 
visual images on the screen. Both the director and the 
scenarist should think of all material, wherever they may 
happen to be, in terms of visual images, from which they 
can select according to their skill in filmic creation. It must 
be remembered that the camera, by means of visual images, 
digs deep into the inner reality of life; it penetrates the 
underlying currents of human emotions; it brings what I 
have called the consciousness of the inanimate to the 
spectator. The whole power of the film lies in the repre- 
sentation of themes and motives, presenting them filmically 
for the pleasure or sadness of the spectators, according to 
their degree of sensitivity. 

In the preparation of the shooting-script, the director may 
be assisted by the cameraman and the designer, who are 
able to supplement his technical knowledge with their 
specialised experience of the capabilities of the camera as 
an instrument of expression and of the designing of sets 
calculated to emphasise dramatic content. I believe that the 
incorporation of draughtsmanship in the film manuscript is 
of the greatest importance in perfecting the representation 
of visual images. The scenario may not only be written, 
but may be drawn. In the first place, purely architectural 
diagrams of the lay-out of sets, travelling shots, panning 
shots, etc., should be included in order that a clear visualisa- 
tion of the action of the characters in relation to the 
mobility of the camera may be possible. Added to this, 
the shooting angles and set-ups of the camera, as dictated 
by the imagination of the scenarist and the technical 



PRECONCEPTION OF DRAMATIC CONTENT 

experience of the cameraman, may be indicated. Secondly, 
it is possible to emphasise the literary description of the 
selected visual images by means of drawings, which will be 
clues, as it were, to the actual shots on the studio floor or 
on location. At this point, a difficulty arises, for the 
literary descriptions in the scenario are usually concerned 
with movement of the acting material, which it is difficult, 
if not impossible, to convey by means of a drawing, the 
nature of which is essentially static. For this reason, 
therefore, the drawings should be in the form of footnotes, 
pictorial indications of the actual realisation, whilst the 
necessary movement of the players and the camera can be 
indicated by diagrammatic plans. The scenarist or 
director, as has already been stated, visualises the complete 
film in his imagination before it ever enters the studio to 
be fixed on strips of celluloid. It is only logical that there 
are many aspects of the visual images, such as pictorial 
composition and contrast of masses, that he cannot describe 
in his script by text. It is when the literary medium fails 
that the scenarist should be helped to a clear expression of 
his ideas by the draughtsmanship of the designer. When 
in the studio, the director should be able to work from 
drawings as well as from words in the realisation of the 
theme. 

It will be understood, therefore, that three persons 
should have the organisation of the shooting-script in their 
control — the scenarist-director, the cameraman, and the 
designer. By means of their collective talent, there will 
result the nearest absolute approach to a complete film pre- 
conceived and set down on paper. Both visually and 
textually, the scenario will indicate the exact course of 
events in the studio, on exterior and in the cutting room. 
The textual description will still remain the prominent 
feature of the scenario, the draughtsmanship serving to 
augment the written description of visual images. It 
follows that with the aid of plans, diagrams, lay-outs, and 
descriptive text, the three composers of the film manuscript 
will be able to select more easily the best possible shots for 

349 



THE THEORETICAL 

the representation of the scenes which express the dramatic 
content of the theme. Moreover, the manuscript composers 
should be continually conscious of the varying relations 
of the visual image lengths (i.e. the length of time that 
each shot is held on the screen), for it is their rhythmic 
relationship which ensures the increasing or decreasing con- 
centration of the audience. This detailed shooting-script 
will render more simple the two further acts of montage, 
already sufficiently complicated in themselves. 

It is to be remembered that when shooting a film, a 
director is seldom able to take shots or scenes in their con- 
secutive order of appearance. He cannot, for obvious 
practical reasons, begin by taking his first shot and proceed 
according to his scenario. For this reason alone, therefore, 
a well-organised shooting-script is absolutely vital for the 
final assembling of the film strips in the cutting room during 
the last stage of montage. If the shooting-script be vague, 
if every problem raised by the theme has not been filmically 
solved in terms of constructed shots, then the resulting 
film will be without composition and form. It must be 
clearly understood that a shooting-script is built up from 
sequences ; the sequences from scenes ; and the scenes from 
shots. Conversely, shots are edited into a scene ; scenes into 
a sequence ; and sequences into a unified filmic composition. 
The drawings included in the film manuscript are clues to 
the progressive movement of the film itself. They are a 
graphic commentary on the unfolding continuity of visual 
images. The basis of film construction is the plastic 
welding of visual images, or shots, into a complete inter- 
related whole. Each separate shot indicated in the shooting- 
script becomes a strip of celluloid; out of these strips, 
joined in varying orders and lengths according to story 
action and rhythm, is built the film as a whole. 

In every way, efficient scenario planning eliminates 
surplus expenditure of time and money during the making 
of a film. With preconceived knowledge of exactly what 
material is desired, only a reasonable amount of footage 
of film stock need be taken. Furthermore, it is obvious that 

350 



PRECONCEPTION OF DRAMATIC CONTENT 

for a film to be produced with any commercial security, it 
must be constructed on a proper planned basis. 1 



A film, in developing its theme, attains dramatic effect 
by a series of visual images on the screen that succeed one 
another in a constant forward movement from the first 
shot to the last. This dynamic unfolding of the dramatic 
content of a theme by continuity may well be described as 
being the course of the narrative from incident to incident, 
from situation to situation, from mood to mood. Further, 
continuity may be said to be the psychological guidance of 
the mind of the audience to the different threads of the 
developing action of the thematic narrative. The continuity 
of a film is quite independent of the aesthetic value of any 
one scene. The development of the theme must be con- 
tinuous. Not for one moment during the showing of a 
film can continuity possibly become exhausted. Although, 
as will be seen, ' actual ' time continuity may be suspended 
for the purpose of including shots of comparison, for 
parallel action or for reference to a scene that has gone 
before (so as to heighten the effect of the central theme), 
the continuity of the film continues to flow forward without 
cessation. 

There exists no definite rule, or form of control, as to the 
order of appearance of visual images on the screen, save the 
principles of constructive editing and cutting. The im- 
portance of the last shot of a film may well depend upon 
the image seen in the three-hundred-and- forty-fifth shot. 
There is nothing but the mind of the director-scenarist to 
put the shots in their right place and in their most effective 
order of showing. This is preconceived in the shooting- 
script and takes material form in the final assembling work. 
It is a generally accepted fact that David Wark Griffith 
originally discovered that the development of incident need 
not necessarily be unfolded in the chronological order of 

1 In passing comment, there is little doubt that the weak spot in the 
British Film Industry is the inefficient organisation of scenarios (1929). 

351 



THE THEORETICAL 

happening. Continuity may be compared with the unfolding 
of a plot of a novel. A close analogy is to be found, in 
particular, in the style of Conrad. Generally speaking, 
however, the change from one sequence to another is 
intended to indicate to the audience the progress of the plot 
of the narrative, though this can by no means be taken as a 
hard and fast rule. The arrangement of the order in which 
sequences are shown depends entirely on constructive 
editing. 

The length of each individual shot (i.e. the duration of 
time that it will be held on the screen until cut, mixed or 
faded into the succeeding shot) may be taken approximately 
as varying from one second for twenty frames of film 
(fifteen inches) to twenty seconds for four hundred frames 
(twenty-five feet). 1 The time-length of shots should be 
roughly indicated in the scenario-plan, such estimates 
naturally being based on observation, since the time-length 
of every shot is controlled by the mood of the dramatic 
content of the scene in question. This variation in 
time-length of a shot is the basis of the rhythmic cutting, 
and such familiar processes as short, long, and medium 
cutting are governed entirely by the required mood. It 
may be well to add that this method assumes individual 
acting to be of secondary importance; primary considera- 
tion being given to achieving effect by image montage. 
Where acting is the only means of conveying the mood of 
a scene, a shot may be held on the screen for a considerable 
length of time, thus becoming akin to the stage. This, of 
course, is the predominant characteristic of the dialogue 
film, where image time-lengths are controlled by speech. 

The continuity of time in the theme of all films is that 
of filmic and not actually recorded time. That is to say, 
the imagination of the spectator is very largely brought into 
play in the acceptance of the narrative from incident to 
incident. 

The differentiation between ' filmic ' time and ' actual ' 

1 This reckoning is for silent film speed. Sound film speed, as almost 
universally used to-day, is 90 ft. per minute, or H ft. per second. 

352 



PRECONCEPTION OF DRAMATIC CONTENT 

time constitutes the whole basis of cinematic representation. 
When it is grasped that the formation of a scene, or situa- 
tion, in a film is purely a matter of the constructive editing 
of visual images, then it will be seen that the film director 
creates his own * time ', as well as his own ' space '. A scene 
is built up from a series of separate shots, taken from 
various angles, and, with the pieces of celluloid on which 
the shots are recorded, the director constructs the scene as 
it will appear on the screen. The very fact that the scene 
has been composed from various separate shots proves that 
it is not a direct record of the actual, and is therefore alien 
to the stage. The material with which the film director 
works is not ' real ' in the sense that it is actually recorded 
time or space, but is a number of pieces of celluloid on 
which real actions have been recorded. By altering the 
relations of these strips, filmic time is constructed. It will 
be remarked that between an actual event and the filmic 
representation of that event on the screen, there is a wide 
difference; the camera, at the director's or scenarist's 
bidding, picks out only such significant portions of the event 
as are necessary for its screen representation. This, in 
other words, refers back to the scenarist's selection of the 
best visual images for the expression of a scene. Suggested 
by the scenarist, recorded by the camera, created by the 
director in editing, there comes into being an element 
peculiar to the cinema — filmic time. This filmic time is 
controlled entirely by the three composers of the shooting- 
script. Further, it is clear that every situation in a 
narrative is characterised not only by its duration of time, 
but also by the space in which it takes place. It is perfectly 
possible for the action of a scene to be taken by the 
camera in several places remote from one another, but when 
the scene is filmically composed, the various places will 
appear to be one and the same. 1 By editing, preconceived 

1 Ct. Ermler's Fragment of an Empire, p. 249. More recent examples 
are the prologues of World of Plenty and The World is Rich, both 
edited from shots not only taken in different countries but taken from 
many different films, and the Capra series, Why We Fight. 

353 23 



THE THEORETICAL 

in the shooting-script, there will have been created filmic 
space as well as filmic time. 

Thus, the material from which a film is built consists of 
photographic images of persons, objects, and structures, 
either static or in motion, which can be assembled in what- 
ever manner the scenarist likes, in order to express his 
theme. The element of real persons, objects, and structures, 
with their temporal and spatial conditions, are recorded 
photographically, to be altered according to the desire of 
the scenarist by the creative process of editing. Actual time 
becomes filmic time; actual space becomes filmic space; 
actual reality becomes, on the screen, filmic reality. To 
quote Pudovkin : ' The film assembles the elements of 
reality to build from them a new reality proper to itself; 
and the laws of space and time that, in the sets and footage 
of the stage are fixed and fast, are in the film entirely 
altered.' {Pudovkin on Film Technique, Gollancz, 1929.) 
Thus it will appear that filmic space and filmic time are the 
principles that primarily govern the continuity of the 
scenario beyond, that is, narrative interest. 

In the construction of continuity, it is of interest to 
examine various methods of bridging a lapse of filmic time 
between the end of one sequence and the beginning of the 
next. There are several known methods of suggesting or 
representing this passing of time, the most usual being the 
fade-in and the fade-out. 1 The former represents a dark 
screen, upon which the visual image gradually assumes 
shape; the latter is the reverse process. It is common to 
end a sequence with a fade, indicating a slow, restful 
departure; the screen remaining dark until the first image 
of the succeeding scene is introduced. The speed of the fade 
is naturally controlled by the mood of the scene upon which 
it opens or closes. Another process is the dissolve or 
mix. This may be said to be the gradual fading of 
one image into another by a process of overlapping, so 
that the forms of the last shot of one sequence become lost 

1 See Glossary in Appendix II for definitions of some technical terms 
used in film production. 

354 



PRECONCEPTION OF DRAMATIC CONTENT 

in the emerging forms of the first shot of the next. It 
would be possible, for example, to dissolve from a long 
shot of an object into a medium shot, and from the medium 
shot into a close-up. This method of approach (or retreat) 
can be very beautiful, and I would give as an instance the 
opening sequence of Storm Over Asia. It is not uncommon 
for the dissolve to be centred on the form of some object, or 
person, common to both sequences, so that the bridging is 
less harsh to the eye. This is a use of the association of 
like shapes. It is possible, for example, to dissolve from 
a person dressed in sports clothes sitting on a chair, to the 
same person wearing evening clothes sitting in an identical 
position in another chair in a fresh environment. A definite 
lapse of time and change of sequence is conveyed simply 
and restfully to the spectator in such a way. A dissolve is 
never harsh or exciting. Its mood is smooth and har- 
monious to the eye, involving a slow rhythm. It causes 
an instantaneous mental dissolve in the mind of the specta- 
tor. This has been very well described as the momentary 
condensation of a train of thought into another that has 
yet to serve its purpose. The aim of the dissolve is to 
associate the old with the new in the mind of the audience. 
The customary method of dissolving has been explained 
as the gradual fading of one pictorial composition into 
another, but it has been rightly suggested that a process of 
rapid de-focus, cut, re-focus, from one sequence to another 
would be more harmonious both to the mind and to the 
eyes. This would be the association between the latent 
thought of the one sequence and the symbolism of the visual 
imagery of the sequence about to appear on the screen. 
(L. Saalschutz writing in Close Up, July 1929.) With 
this in mind, I would refer to a scene in a film edited by 
Pudovkin, The Living Corpse, where an experiment was 
made in using both dissolves and direct cutting as a means 
of expressing the content of a scene. A company of gipsy 
girls was dancing to the music of a band of guitars and 
mandolins. Pudovkin took a number of short flashes of 
the girls dancing, cutting direct from one flash to another. 

355 



THE THEORETICAL 

He interspersed these with some double-exposure shots of 
hands plucking at the strings of the instruments, but dis- 
solved from one shot into another instead of directly cutting. 
This meant that when flashes of human movement were 
being shown, it was permissible to cut from flash to flash, 
since the mood was that of dancing; but when flashes of 
the musical instruments being played were in question, the 
mood was melodic and hence the dissolve was more suitable 
than the cut, for the latter would be in conflict to such a 
mood. It would not have been aesthetically possible to cut 
visually from sound to sound, so the smoothness of the 
dissolve was required. A rhythmic combination of these 
two types of changing shots produced its own music in the 
imagination of the spectator. 

Other technical methods for bridging the lapse of time 
are the employment of a written title, a direct cut from one 
scene to another, or by the rare method of drawing the 
visual image itself across the screen and following it with 
the next. This latter form was well seen in Cavalcanti's 
Rien que les Heures. 1 Titles employed for the purpose of 
connecting sequences are, as would be supposed, usually 
termed continuity titles. Their purpose is to give the 
audience an explanation, a connecting link between one 
situation and another, simply but effectively. There are also 
many familiar literary devices, usually symbolic, such as 
those of showing candles burning, calendar dates changing, 
full bottles dissolving into empty ones, cigarettes burning 
in an ashtray, etc., all of which are stock methods that 
appear again and again, indicating lack of resource on the 
part of the scenarist. As an example of almost perfect con- 
tinuity and complete fluidity of development, The Last 
Laugh, from a scenario by Carl Mayer, was outstanding. 
Other films which can be mentioned in this respect were 

1 Since the above was written, this device, known as a ' wipe ', has 
become widelv used by its being made on the optical printer in the 
laboratory. Purist film technicians object to its use on the grounds that 
it is a two-dimensional device, as against the three-dimensional illusion 
of the ' mix ' or ' dissolve '. It is true that ' wipes ' of all types are used 
by editors to cover a multitude of continuity and editing sins, 

356 



PRECONCEPTION OF DRAMATIC CONTENT 

Henry King's Tollable Dazrid, Room's Bed and Sofa, and 
the films of Eisenstein and Pudovkin. 

The main continuity development of the theme set down 
in the first place by the scenarist is, as has already been 
explained, finally controlled by the constructive editing. 
But it is clear that its course may be interrupted by certain 
episodes and sequences which help to emphasise the whole 
effect of the content. Certain incidents and scenes may be 
re-introduced, suspending the actional progress of the main 
theme in order to explain, perhaps, their appearance at an 
earlier stage in the continuity. There are various principles 
of relational development, such as contrast and simile in 
the association of ideas, which are commonly employed to 
heighten dramatic tension. The exact meaning of the 
action taking place in the opening sequence of a film may 
not be made clear to the audience until the film is half-way 
through, when a comparison is made by a flash-back. A 
familiar method also is to emphasise dramatic suspense by 
means of parallel action. Shots from two different scenes 
may be shown alternately, though they are both of the same 
sequence and are developing to the same end. This is a 
favourite method of drawing a film to an exciting climax. 
The hero is on the point of being hanged. The riders 
approach carrying his pardon. Alternate shots are shown 
of each. The suspense as to whether the hero will be saved 
or not is enhanced by quicker and quicker cutting, until at 
the moment he is to be despatched, the pardon arrives. The 
two sets of shots are mingled into one and all is well. It 
is to be found in most Western films and in such old friends 
as The Orphans of the Storm and Don Q} The same effect 
can be gained equally well by composite shots on the same 
screen. 

From this, it is but a step to the various other forms of 
interrupted development of the theme by means of shots, or 
even whole sequences, for the purposes of comparison, 
either for direct contrast or for simile. It must, however, 
be clearly understood that although these methods of com- 

1 Cf . page 148 et seq., ' The last-minute-rescue '. 

357 



THE THEORETICAL 

parison cause the suspense of filmic time continuity in order 
to heighten dramatic effect, the continuity of the develop- 
ment of the film itself still progresses. 

Many examples of direct similes occur in the work of 
the Soviet directors and in the early films of Griffith. 1 
Pudovkin is fond of building an effect by comparing the con- 
tent of a scene with some object, or person, quite irrelevant 
to the narrative except symbolically. A scene of love and 
happiness, for instance, is interspersed with quick flashes 
of Sevres porcelain groups of shepherds and shepherdesses, 
symbolic of the lightness and fragility of the love mood of 
the scene. In direct contrast, some shots of waving trees 
and sunlit country are cut in with a scene of combat and 
turmoil. Time continuity for the moment is interrupted, 
the dramatic effect of the combat is strengthened, and the 
actual continuity flows forward. Mention has been made 
on other pages of Pudovkin's skilful referential editing. 2 It 
is of point to remember that the drama of a thing lies not 
so much in the thing itself, as in the comparison of it with 
other things. An empty room is not so dramatic in itself 
as the thought of what that room was like before it was 
empty. 

Similarity of content recurring at intervals throughout 
a film also appears as a form of comparison, but is strictly 
more connected with the actual plot of the narrative than 
with the continuity of the development. For instance, the 
recurrence of the same characters in a similar situation, so 
well handled in Bed and Sofa, was a matter of story 
construction. The exact balance of the recurring situations 
was a matter of continuity. The plot demanded that three 
people shared a room; a husband, his wife, and another 
man. The sleeping accommodation was confined to one 
bed and a sofa. In the first part of the film the other man 
had the sofa; in the middle of the film the situation was 
reversed; and in the end the problem was solved. There 

1 Elliott's Anatomy of Motion Picture Art (Pool, 1928) analyses the 
films of Griffith well in this respect. 

2 Cf . pages 235, 393. 

358 



PRECONCEPTION OF DRAMATIC CONTENT 

was a nicety about the presentation of the changed situa- 
tions that suggested careful balance and distribution in the 
continuity of development. 

First, in his treatment and secondly, in his shooting-script, 
the scenarist has always to develop his action according to 
a design of varying degrees of tension. It is this variance 
in tension, ranging from high, exciting emotions to low, 
sad, and depressing emotions, that forces the mind of the 
audience to follow the unfolding of the film with interest. 
This attraction between the visual images on the screen 
and the mind of the audience is governed not only by the 
dramatic situations of the narrative (such as suspense, 
mystery, explanation) but also by the purely filmic methods 
of construction, i.e. editing and cutting. The use of crowds, 
of rapid physical movement, of dramatic situations, is in 
itself emotionally exciting, but this material is rendered 
doubly powerful by its filmic representation. Thus, the 
arrangement of high-spots at suitable intervals throughout 
a film is determined in the scenario construction. Sequences 
of high dramatic emotion (high-spots) must be balanced 
by sequences of low emotion (low-spots). Exciting inci- 
dents are to be modulated by sad incidents. Balance in the 
design of the film must be preserved in order to establish 
rhythmic structure. Incidents of varying dramatic intensity 
(or mood) must be distributed throughout the film in terms 
of contrast. High-spots are to be related to low-spots. 
Emotions are to be aroused in an up-and-down fluidity. 
Sequences are to be arranged according to their dominants 
or moods. It is possible to plot a graph of the dominants 
of a film, showing the inter-relation between the points of 
high and low emotion. The plotting of the graph of a film 
might be included as a further stage of scenario montage. 



359 



Ill 

THE METHODS OF EXPRESSION OF DRAMATIC 
CONTENT BY FILM CONSTRUCTION 

It is proposed, for the purpose of simplification, to divide 
the processes by which the dramatic content of the theme 
of a film is conveyed to an audience into two separate 
sections. The first will deal with the construction of the 
silent film by means of visual images on the screen. The 
second will reason the uses of a combination of sound, 
dialogue, and visual images on the screen. Although these 
two processes may be considered as entirely different forms 
of cinema (believing, that is, the dialogue film to be 
spurious), certain properties are common to each, and in 
places will be found to overlap. For example, although 
visual images are employed in both cases, basically different 
ideas lie behind their conception. An intermediary stage 
has further been added, deliberating on the advantages to 
be gained from the use of recorded sound (as distinct 
from the recorded voice) as a resource of filmic exposition. 
Although aesthetic principles render the silent film, 
reasonably reinforced by symbolic sound accompaniment, 
the only acceptable form of cinema, it is not to be denied 
that the dialogue film as seen and heard to-day is a 
form of cinema, its novelty and freakishness being com- 
mercially lucrative to American and British producers, and 
to those continental firms which take the same outlook. 
Beyond this, there must be visualised in the near future the 
stereoscopic and' wider screen, the colour film, and the 
projection of coloured slides or secondary films on to the 
walls and ceiling of the theatre, all in combination with 
synchronised dialogue and sound, in an effort to establish 
what has been called the Compound Cinema. That these 
mechanical ' developments ' will come into general use there 

360 



METHODS OF EXPRESSION 

is little doubt, and in all probability they will be supported 
by a certain section of the community who applaud novelty 
entertainment. I am equally certain, however, that these 
new forms will never destroy the original and highest form 
of cinema, the silent, flat film with synchronised or 
orchestral accompaniment, which is indisputably the most 
effective medium for the conveyance of the dramatic con- 
tent of a theme to the mind of an audience. 

Examination may first be made, then, of the visual 
cinema. 

(I) The Process of the Visual Cinema 

The silent film, in developing the continuity or progress 
of a theme, attains dramatic effect on an audience by a 
series of visual images on the screen. Long shots and 
close-ups, straight views and angular views, combine to 
demonstrate the character of the content of the theme. 
Only those images which have a definite bearing on this 
content are shown, and these are represented by means of 
carefully selected photographic angles, wholly or partially 
pre-conceived and indicated in the shooting-script. The 
greatest possible emotional effect can be achieved in the 
smallest amount of time by the arrangement of these visual 
images, the selection of which is governed by various prin- 
ciples of image montage. This arrangement is also included 
in the shooting-script, being carried out in the final act of 
assemblage. Complete freedom may be exercised in the 
choice of photographic angles and in the length of the shot 
(i.e. its number of frames). A film is not, by any stretch 
of imagination, a mere succession of shots taken at 
random, which can be described either singly or consecu- 
tively. Rather it is the relation, inter-relation and juxta- 
position of these varying lengths of shot which, when 
combined into a whole, produce filmic effect. 

Further analysis of these methods of expression of a 
theme may be divided into five sections, a sixth being added 
to consider the advantages, if any, to be derived from the 

361 



THE THEORETICAL 

stereoscopic screen and colour film. These sections can be 
described thus : 

(a) Film Psychology, being the expression of inner 
reality by outward phenomena. 

(b) The Expressive Capabilities of the Camera. 

(c) The Pictorial Composition of Visual Images. 

(d) Constructive Editing and Cutting. 

(e) Titles, and the placing thereof. 

(/) The Visual Addition of Colour and The Stereoscopic 
Screen. 



(a) Film Psychology 

The dramatic content of a fiction or semi-fiction film may 
be described as being the psychological reactions and emo- 
tions of the characters in a story, resulting from narrative 
situations which arise from the actions of the characters 
themselves or other material incidents. 

The inner reality of the characters, their thoughts, 
desires, lusts, and emotions, is revealed by their outward 
actions. It is, furthermore, these outward phenomena 
which the camera photographs in order to recreate and 
transfer to the mind of the audience the inner reality of 
the characters in the story. It is by the subtle arrange- 
ment of the visual images (i.e. the editing) which photo- 
graphically record these phenomena that the dramatic con- 
tent is conveyed clearly to the audience. The camera itself 
is unable to penetrate the world before it, but the creative 
mind of the director can reveal in his selection of the visual 
images this intrinsic essence of life by using the basic 
resources of the cinema, viz., editing, angle, pictorial com- 
position, suggestion, symbolism, etc. And, in particular, it 
is the camera's remarkable faculty for the representation 
of detail that makes it possible to build up situations and 
events by putting their exact ingredients before the 
audience. Guided by the mind of the scenarist and the 
director, the camera eliminates from the screen everything 

362 



METHODS OF EXPRESSION 

but material absolutely significant to the exposition of the 
dramatic content of the theme. Every visual image on the 
screen registers an impression on the minds of the audience, 
as also do the intervals that exist between the visual images, 
and out of a moving series of impressions is the whole 
effect composed. Hence, the complete attention of the 
audience lies at the director's will, and, therefore, in 
actuality the camera is the mind of the spectator. In this 
respect, there will be noticed the relevance of the Dziga- 
Vertov theory of the cine-eye. 1 

It is not unnatural, then, that the principles of psycho- 
analysis play a large part in the conveyance of dramatic 
content to the audience. It will be shown later, for example, 
in dealing with pictorial composition, that the smallest 
movement on the screen is immediately magnified in im- 
portance and becomes at once a source of interest to the 
spectator. From this it will be realised that the so-called 
symptomatic actions of Freud, the small, almost unnoticed 
and insignificant actions of behaviour on the part of a 
person, are highly indicative of the state of his mind, and 
are of the utmost value, when magnified on the screen, for 
establishing an understanding of that state of mind in the 
audience. For this reason alone, it will be seen how essen- 
tial it is for a film player to be his natural self, and how 
detrimental ' theatrical ' acting is to film purposes. It is the 
duty of the director to reveal the natural characteristics of 
his players and to build these, by means of editing, into a 
filmic exposition of a personality, as required by the 
scenario. That is why, when approached from this point 
of view, the use of actual types is generally considered pre- 
ferable to professional actors, a method of working adopted 
by the naturalistic directors. (Eisenstein, Pudovkin, 
Flaherty, Turin, and Epstein in his later period.) 

Moreover, there is no limit to the depth of cinematic 
introspection. There is no state of mind which cannot be 
fully revealed by the resources of the film. The expression 
of such content may be said to be governed by the set-up 

i Cf . pp. 243-247. 

363 



THE THEORETICAL 

of the camera when the shot is taken; and the relation 
between the length of this shot (when shown on the screen) 
and that of the other shots which make up the whole 
sequence, and finally the film as a unity. It should be re- 
membered also that both these two factors have been largely 
pre-conceived in the shooting-script. 

Added to which, there is to be considered the very 
important part played by the presence of inanimate objects 
in the construction of a scene. An object in itself is an 
immensely expressive thing. It will possibly be symbolic. 
For instance, an aeroplane or a motor-car is immediately 
suggestive of speed; a rifle or gun of death; and so on. 
By reason of the camera's capacity for bringing detail to 
the attention of the audience, inanimate objects assume a 
dramatic significance in the establishment of mood. Their 
use is, of course, controlled by the editing. (Recall the 
Sevres figures in The Living Corpse; the dirt and litter in 
Greed; the gallery of gods and the detail of architecture in 
Ten Days that Shook the World.) The film, more so than 
any other medium, forces the spectator to realise the con- 
sciousness of the inanimate. 

It is, therefore, the mood or tension of a scene created 
by the characters which is to be transferred to the audience, 
or better still, in which the audience itself is going to 
participate. The existence and emphasis of this mood is 
established by the natural resources of the film. 

Emphasis of mood is to be gained largely by contrast of 
light and of space, by angle, by symbolism, and by indirect 
suggestion. A memorable example of the contrast of space 
was to be found in Bed and Sofa. The story was placed 
in Moscow at the time when there was extreme shortage of 
housing accommodation. Out of this state of affairs, and 
rendered plausible by them, arose the story. It was neces- 
sary, therefore, to emphasise this shortage of space through- 
out the film, in order to substantiate the incidents of the 
story. Most of the action took place in a small room, too 
cramped for two, let alone three, persons. But the atmo- 
sphere of this confined space was not to be achieved only 

364 



METHODS OF EXPRESSION 

by shots of the litter and discomfort in the room itself. 
One of the three persons went out to work. He was seen 
working on the top of the roof of the Opera House, sur- 
rounded on all sides by sky. The width and breadth of the 
heavens provided a powerful contrast to the small room, 
where the three fell over each other in an effort to keep 
out of the way. The director in this film took advantage of 
natural circumstances to emphasise the content of his film, 
and to render it plausible to the audience. 

As already indicated, a dramatic feeling of uncertainty, 
of perhaps slight fear, is to be obtained by emptiness. Long, 
deliberate shots of an empty room or corridor, after there 
has been a sustained sequence of vigorous, highly emotional 
action, produce a strong suggestion of tense atmosphere. 
Contrast of light and shade accentuates the mood of such 
a scene. In The Joyless Street, in a room lit only by the 
feeble rays of light filtering through the slats of a Venetian 
blind, the presence of the murdered man was at once estab- 
lished although no corpse was to be seen. Atmosphere was 
conveyed by contrasted light; the mood of the dramatic 
content was achieved by indirect suggestion. Many similar 
scenes appeared in The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari, and, of 
course, in the often-quoted opening sequence in Karl 
Grune's The Street. 

Throughout the course of Feyder's Therese Raquin, the 
audience was aware of the content of the narrative by 
subtle indirect suggestion. Therese went to see her lover 
Laurent in his studio. She leaned back on the couch; he 
sat brooding at her feet; the scene was charged with ten- 
sion. On the wall behind them were pinned carelessly some 
of his drawings from the life, such sketches as are found 
lying about in so many artists' studios. There was nothing 
uncommon in their presence. But their meaning, although 
the direct effect on the spectator may have been unconscious, 
showed clearly the sexual reason for the meetings of these 
two. It was an example of the use of the incidental to 
reinforce the general, instigated by the intelligence of the 
director. In Greed, the central theme was the demonstra- 

365 



THE THEORETICAL 

tion of the horror of a human being's intense passion for 
gold. This was emphasised by the presence of gold in 
every detail throughout the film. From the grinding mill 
in the opening sequence, to the bars of the canary cage, 
the teeth stoppings and the gilt picture frames, the keynote 
of the film was gold. Unfortunately, in this case, it was 
over-exaggerated by the use of part colorisation, causing 
the effect to be blatant. 

It is then, by the flicker of an eyelash, the dropping of 
a cigarette end, the relation of one thing to another, the 
association of ideas and objects, that mood partially is 
suggested, emphasised and made apparent. 

(b) The Expressive Capabilities of the Camera 

The capabilities of the camera as an instrument of ex- 
pression are almost unlimited. There exists practically no 
object or person that cannot be photographed. The appeal 
of the film lies in a transient series of visual images, pre- 
sented to the eye on a screen flooded with light in a 
darkened place. The camera is the actual medium, the eye. 
through which all movement and all phenomena are cap- 
tured. The camera swings here and there, catching unseen 
incidents and unnoticed aspects of life. This was well 
instanced by the Cine-Eye methods in The Man zuith the 
Camera. Flowers are observed to bloom ; insects to crawl ; 
birds to fly. Every movement, however fast or slow, in 
every direction, is recorded by the camera's eye. It noses 
into every corner, ferrets out information, returns to a 
normal position, and suddenly swings round on its own axis 
to observe the fresh movement of another person. 

The camera as an instrument of expression in itself may 
be considered from four aspects : (a) the position of the 
camera and consequently the angle from which the shot is 
taken; (b) its power of distortion and of duplicating 
movement; (c) the movement of the camera in order to 
include other objects in its range, without change of scene 
by cutting and without movement of the actual position; 

366 



METHODS OF EXPRESSION 

(d) the mobility of the camera in that it approaches, 
retreats or encircles the object that it is photographing. 

In the early days of the cinema, all shots were taken from 
a standard distance away from the object, the influence of 
the stage still being uppermost in the mind of the director. 
It was deemed impossible to show a portion of a person on 
the screen. The actors were made to remain discreetly in 
the background, and gestured into the camera, adjusting 
themselves to it, as it were, and being extremely conscious 
of its presence. Griffith is claimed to have been the first 
director to have broken down this barrier, being rightly 
convinced in his own mind that facial expression was the 
all-powerful interpretation of the thoughts in the actor's 
mind for the purposes of film drama. This, as is well 
known, led to the introduction of the close-up, an element 
which altered the whole conception and outlook of the film. 
It was not until much later, however, that the real use of 
the close-up was appreciated, not so much for the dramatic 
expression on an actor's face as for the fact that it was a 
form of emphasis. Close-ups of objects and things became 
as important as the close-ups of a face. It was the idea of 
using the close-up to draw attention to a certain object that 
first threw a new light on film direction. An early instance 
of this was the shot of the galloping hooves of the horses 
cut in with shots of the riders themselves in the ' last- 
minute-rescue ' of The Birth of a Nation. 1 

It was not until after the war, however, that the Germans 
realised that practically anything, when lit from the right 
source, was more dramatic if taken from a position 
different from the usual eye-level. From that day onwards 
the camera developed its independence, to be used rightly 
by a few directors for the strict emphasis of mood, and 
wrongly by many for the sake of sheer virtuosity. Even 
now, there are lamentably few directors who have any real 
knowledge of the use of camera angle, of when and how 
to employ it in order to achieve dramatic effect. Of those 
few, so that reference can be made to their work, mention 

1 Vide, This Film Business, R. P. Messel (Benn, 1929), p. 92. 

367 



THE THEORETICAL 

may be made of Pabst, Pudovkin, Eisenstein, Feyder, Clair, 
and Dreyer. 1 

The first capability of the camera to be recognised, 
beyond the obvious fact of its taking the picture, is its 
power of distortion. Camera distortion is significant, for, 
by the very fact of throwing the pictorial composition of 
a scene out of perspective, it emphasises the mood of that 
scene. The angle from which a shot is taken must be 
controlled by the image that is being visualised and not by 
the position of the camera. The mood of the shot deter- 
mines the position of the camera; not the artistic mind of 
a director who thinks the shot would look well if taken 
from the ceiling. The examples of misuse of camera angle, 
both for freakish and exotic reasons, are countless, and can 
only be compared with the abuse of the camera's own move- 
ments. They are present in nearly every American and 
British film. There is, moreover, little excuse for the use 
of freak camera angles. The choice of an angle should not 
be a disputed point, or even a matter of opinion. Provided 
the mood of a shot and its connection with the sequence 
is clearly indicated by the shooting-script, there is only one 
position in which the camera can be placed in order to 
render that shot most expressive of the mood required. 

The camera, moreover, possesses the faculty of concen- 
trating the eye of the spectator on some important detail 
on the screen, by narrowing down the field of vision on to 
the centre of interest. An old method was to mask over 
gradually the whole screen with the exception of one par- 
ticular detail ; or to begin a sequence by the iris-in method, 
starting on the most important object in the composition. 
This was freely used in The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari 
and Birth of a Nation, and other early films. Camera 
mobility and the recognition of the values of cutting have 
disposed of these methods, which were clumsy at their best. 

1 In recent years, several directors have made a serious study of 
camera set-up as a means of interpreting dramatic content. Their names 
deserve to be added to the above. Among them should be included 
Marcel Carne, Payid Lean, John Huston, Carol Reed and Edward 
Dmytryk, 

368 



METHODS OF EXPRESSION 

It is common now to start a sequence on a close-up of some 
small object, the camera travelling away from it, round 
the set, finally picking up the chief source of interest. 
Hoffmann exploited this idea in Nina Petrovna until it 
became wearisome and smacked of virtuosity. 

There are various properties of the camera, apart from 
the matter of its set-up, which are valuable for the 
emphasis of dramatic mood. The device of throwing a 
scene deliberately out of focus in order to denote the misty 
state of mind of a character (and, of course, the audience) 
is familiar. 1 In American films the employment of gauzes 
for softening the effect of lighting is not generally used so 
much with the desire to emphasise the mood of the scene 
as to make it look pretty. It is an offensive habit, and is to 
be found chiefly in sentimental films of the calibre of 
Seventh Heaven. It was an unfortunate feature, also, of 
The Wedding March, but there at least it was used to create 
atmosphere. The use of mirrors is also known, being seen 
at its best in Metzner's Ueberfall, for the brilliant repre- 
sentation of a man's subconscious thoughts. 

Another form of pure cinematic resource is the projec- 
tion of negative film on to the screen, which gives an effect 
of reversed values to the ordinary projection of positive. 
Instead of the screen image being in terms of black on 
white, the result is white on black. This was well used by 
Murnau in the rare version of Dracida, in order to convey 
the macabre atmosphere of the dark woods surrounding the 
Count's castle. A curious feeling of lifelessness is obtained 
by the use of negative in this way, due probably to the 
suggestion of the skeletons of the objects being photo- 
graphed. Its effect in the case cited above was sinister; 
the gaunt, white branches of trees standing out in a ghostly 
manner against the black sky. It is a camera device fre- 
quently used by the French experimentalists, and in particu- 
lar I recall it in A quoi revent les jeunes films, La Marche 
des Machines, and Les Mysteres du Chateau du De. In 

1 A beautiful example of double-image distortion to simulate drunken- 
ness was in Dmytryk's Crossfire (1947), cameraman, J. Roy Hunt. 

369 24 



THE THEORETICAL 

Dracula also, was found the use of one- turn — one-picture, 
a device which produced an effect of erratic, jerky move- 
ment, giving the phantom coach a bizarre appearance as it 
moved through the woods. 

Other devices of the camera connected with movement 
but expressive of mood are slow-motion, ultra- rapid motion, 
and the abrupt cessation of movement. Slow-motion is 
often to be seen employed in topical films to reveal the 
graceful actions of athletes and racehorses. Its place in 
dramatic themes is more interesting. Perhaps the best ex- 
ample was the opening sequence of Dovjenko's Zvenigora, 
a scene which showed a band of cossack brigands riding 
through some luxuriously foliaged countryside. Slow- 
motion was used during the scene, the effect being peculiarly 
beautiful as well as suggestive of the laziness, heat, and 
dust of the afternoon. It had also the asset of deliberately 
concentrating the attention of the spectator on the slowly 
moving horsemen, with their graceful, fascinating actions. 
Fairbanks has employed slow-motion in order to give his 
leaps and bounds added grace (in Don Q), but this can 
hardly be classed as emphasis of mood. Ultra-rapid motion 
and the abrupt cessation of movements, producing a petri- 
fied effect, have been well used in some Soviet comedies 
{e.g. Barnet's House in Trubnaya Square). For the extra- 
ordinary effects obtainable by cessation of movement, one 
remembers in particular Dovjenko's film, Arsenal, where 
its use was intensely emotional. It will be appreciated that 
the effects of these devices cannot well be described in 
words. They are wholly cinematic in texture. 

Having considered the expressive properties of the 
camera at rest, it is permissible to examine the capabilities 
of the camera in movement. The mobility of the camera is 
an important factor in filmic representation that has only 
come to be used to its full capacity during recent years. 
But no sooner has the camera achieved its independence 
than it is again curbed by the advent of the dialogue film, 
which demands that the instrument be enclosed in a booth 
or box of some considerable dimensions, seriously limiting 

370 



METHODS OF EXPRESSION 

its power of movement. 1 Some experiments are being made 
to remedy this by enveloping the camera in a velvet cloak 
to keep out sound, but there is no question that the dialogue 
film has temporarily thrown the recently liberated camera 
back once more into slavery. Karl Hoffmann's lament : 
* Poor camera, alas; no more of your graceful movements, 
no more of your happy-go-lucky shifts? Are you again 
condemned to the same bondage and chains which you com- 
menced breaking ten years ago ? ' is a stab at the dominant 
commercialism of the American dialogue cinema. 

At the time of the production of the first dialogue film, 
the camera had just established its freedom. It must be put 
on record, also, that the principal developments in the 
capabilities of the camera took place in Germany, despite 
claims to the contrary by smart American film writers. 
Practically every photographic device which is used to 
emphasise the dramatic power of a shot saw its origin in 
German studios. It was Fritz Arno Wagner, Karl Freund, 
Karl Hoffmann, Gunther Rittau, Guido Seeber, Gunther 
Krampf, and their confreres who gave the camera its 
independence from the hampering tripod. Assisted by her 
unlimited finance and unparalleled capacity for annexing 
any new development, Hollywood exploited this freedom 
of the camera without any regard to its limits or correct 
uses. It is seldom that camera mobility is used for any 
purpose other than sheer virtuosity in American movies. 

Camera mobility is completely justified in any direction 
and at any speed so long as the reason for its movement 
is expression and heightening of the dramatic content of 
the shot. Its motion can be forward and backward, from 
side to side, or up and down. It can move horizontally, 
perpendicularly, diagonally, circularly and in combinations 
of these actions in curved or straight movements. In 
Jeanne Ney, Wagner's camera was in motion practically 
throughout the film. So strongly was the dramatic content 

1 Even to-day, while the up-to-date ' blimp ' is a great improvement on 
the old booth of the early talkies, camera mobility is more limited in 
synch, shooting than in silent camerawork. 

371 



THE THEORETICAL 

brought out, however, that the spectator was scarcely con- 
scious of the movement. In Paramount' s Forgotten Faces, 
a camera took flights round a room whilst a hold-up raid 
was in progress. A fine view of the wallpaper was ob- 
tained, but the drama of the scene was non-existent. The 
same applied to certain shots in Vidor's The Crowd. In 
such a way must sheer artistry be distinguished from 
shallow technical accomplishment. 

Many instances of correctly used camera motion occurred 
in Moana, where the camera swung to follow the swaying 
movements of a tree ; in La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc, where 
the quick, pulsating, backward and forward motion denoted 
the hesitant trepidation in Joan's mind ; and in Metropolis, 
where a similar movement followed the hammer of the 
great gong calling the workers together. 1 

Obviously, the dimensions of the material forming the 
pictorial composition on the screen change in relation to 
the movement of the camera ; but it must always be upper- 
most in the mind that the material governs the motion of 
the camera. Furthermore, there is a close relationship 
between the movement of the camera and camera angle, 
both being controlled by the mood of the material being 
photographed. All the properties of the camera itself, such 
as slow-motion and masks, as well as camera angle, which 
have been considered previously, have direct bearing on 
camera mobility. It should be remembered that the camera 
can approach an object from a low angle, gradually rising 
as it gets nearer, at the same time altering its course ; arrive 
at the object and encircle it; and photograph the whole 
time in slow-motion. Each of these movements is justified, 
// it is emphasising the mood of the shot and its bearing 
on the dramatic content of the story. 

As has been made clear, the expressive powers of the 
camera may be considered from four points of view; the 

1 John Huston's thriller, The Maltese Falcon (1941) photograped by 
Arthur Edeson, was an outstanding example of brilliantly used camera 
devices of all kinds especially movement related to cutting. The last two 
films of Rossellini, Germany Year Zero and The Miracle, also have 
remarkable camera movement. 

372 



METHODS OF EXPRESSION 

first two with the camera at rest, the last two with the 
camera in movement. It is necessary, therefore, to 
differentiate between the two forms of movement. The 
first is that in which the camera position does not change, 
but the camera itself swivels either laterally or vertically, 
to include fresh objects in its range. The second is that 
in which the camera moves its position as a whole in order 
to approach or to retreat from the object being 
photographed. 

The first of these actions, when the camera pivots on its 
own axis laterally, or tilts in an up-and-down motion, is 
generally termed panning, the obvious reason being that 
this action produces on the screen a panoramic view of the 
set or location in which the camera is placed. Its customary 
use is to connect two persons or things on the screen which 
are some distance apart, without entailing a separate shot. 
The movement must necessarily be fairly slow if it is not 
to offend the eyes of the audience, and hence it will be 
apparent that panning from a person standing at one side 
of a table to a person at the other, takes a greater length 
of time than would a direct cut from one visual image to 
another. A pan shot tends to slow down the action of a 
scene; cutting tends to quicken the pace. The only clue 
as to whether panning or cutting should be used in a certain 
continuity of shots lies in the mood of the scene. If 
the nature of the latter is to be quick and staccato, then 
panning will be useless to convey this tempo, cutting being 
the desirable method. If, on the other hand, the action is 
slow, dragging, and sad, panning slowly from one person 
or object to another will produce the required emphasis of 
mood. Like every other form of camera movement, pan- 
ning is justified only by the mood of the scene being 
represented. These remarks apply equally to the perpen- 
dicular form of panning, which is more rarely used than 
the lateral. Both the merits and demerits of panning were 
apparent in Werner Brandes's camerawork, at Dupont's 
direction, in Piccadilly. Several highly dramatic moments 
in this film lost their effect on the audience because the 

373 



THE THEORETICAL 

camera dawdled in its panning, in the very place where 
direct, quick cutting should have been used. It may be 
added that the technical accomplishment of the camerawork 
in this film was of a high standard, and it was regrettable 
that it should have been misused. 

The movement of the camera as a whole, in approach to 
or in retreat from the material being taken, is usually known 
as a rolling or travelling shot, or simply as tracking. 
Actually, the camera is mounted on a trolley or a camera 
tricycle, which enables it to be moved forward or backward 
or in an arc, as desired. The tripod head mounted on the 
tricycle permits the camera to pan at the same time as it 
is moving across the studio floor; thus almost any form of 
movement in any direction is attainable. 

Great care should be exercised by the director in the use 
of a tracking shot, for the movement is apt to make the 
audience conscious of the camera's presence, which is 
absolutely undesirable. The shot should always be seen on 
the screen with the camera in motion the whole time, and 
not, as is usual, with the camera first at rest and then in 
movement. This beginning (or ending) of movement 
immediately makes the spectator conscious of the camera. 
There were many instances of both good and bad travelling 
camerawork in The Patriot, where the audience was never 
quite sure if it was intended to be the camera (which was 
also Emil Jannings) moving through the palatial corridors 
of Paramount Palace, or whether it was just an onlooker 
who trailed after Jannings as he wandered about in a 
half-witted absent-mindedness, in order to show the 
audience the artistic reconstruction of Imperialist Russia 
(Hollywood version). 

This problem inevitably raises the complicated question 
of camera personification. Is the camera (as Chaplin 
insists) to be used as an unconscious observer, a hidden eye, 
or is the camera to take on the viewpoint of a character in 
the theme? When the camera moves across the room and 
ends in a close-up of a picture on the wall, is the audience 
to understand that it has itself moved across the room and 

374 



METHODS OF EXPRESSION 

is looking at the picture; or that the camera is personifying 
one of the characters going across the room ; or yet again, 
that the camera may have followed an actor across the 
room, looking over his shoulder? This is a problem on 
which each director has (or should have) his own or some- 
body else's theory. Actually, it can only be settled by the 
dramatic content of the scene once more. Camera personi- 
fication is to be used in certain shots where the dramatic 
content (according to the director) demands its use without 
the risk of the audience becoming camera-conscious. It is 
justified, for example, where the screen is showing the 
thoughts of a character in order to explain his actions. In 
most cases, however, it is preferable to adopt the unseen 
eye theory, and therefore assume that the camera is able 
to see anything anywhere without hindrance. 1 

(c) The Pictorial Composition of Visual Images 

In considering the problem of the pictorial composition 
of visual images seen on the screen, it should be remem- 
bered that a scene is only photographic in its reproduction. 
That is to say, a certain arrangement and composition is 
necessary before an object or group of objects or persons, 
as the case may be, can be photographed. This arrange- 
ment (which is in the hands of the director and not in those 
of the ' art-director,' as is sometimes believed) can only 
take place in the studio or on location, when the material is 
capable of being actually composed. It can, however, and 
should be indicated by the draughtsmanship in the shooting- 
script. In cases where real material of landscapes is used, 
it is the task of the director to compose much in the same 
way as does a painter. (It is as well to recall, in this 
respect, the creation of filmic space made possible by con- 
structive editing.) Although the principles of linear design 
that are generally accepted in regard to static composition 
in paintings and drawings do not strictly apply to the 
cinema (where the material is in almost constant motion), 

1 Robert Montgomery's much-publicised Lady in the Lake (1947) pro- 
vided a valuable object lesson in how not to use camera personification. 

375 



THE THEORETICAL 

they are nevertheless invaluable in iilmic composition for 
presenting forms, not only in a pleasant manner to the eye, 
but for purposes of insinuation and suggestion in the 
expression of dramatic content. 

When a film is projected in a cinema, the visual image 
on the screen represents a rectangular frame which the 
camera has isolated from all other possible points of view. 
Objects and persons within the limits of this picture frame 
(formed by the four sides of the screen) should be com- 
posed harmoniously so that balance and design are main- 
tained. Irrelevant matter is to be discarded and the 
remaining important material is to be arranged with regard 
to its significance, as demanded by the dramatic content of 
the shot. As with a static composition, little things should 
be employed to lead the eye of the spectator to big things. 
Attention should be drawn to the significant object, or 
person, on the screen by the linear design of the composi- 
tion, as well as by contrast in lighting. This is of particular 
importance in the conception and designing of studio 
settings, for the leading lines of a set should emphasise and 
support the dramatic content of the action taking place in 
it. The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari was an object-lesson 
of this co-operation between the film designer and the 
director. 

Relation between the pictorial composition of visual 
images and the dramatic content that the scene carries must 
in all cases be insisted upon. There is a definite connection 
between the form of the composition and the dramatic con- 
tent of the shot. Pictorial composition in the film con- 
notes the maintenance of a balanced composition that is 
both in constant motion and in constant connection with 
the ever-changing dramatic content of the action. Just as 
continuity has to be sustained in the continuity of shots 
and sequences, so has the balance of pictorial composition 
to remain in constant harmony. 

Paradoxically enough, although it should be the aim for 
the visual image to be beautiful in design, nevertheless 
that design should never be allowed to dominate the 

376 



METHODS OF EXPRESSION 

dramatic content of the image. It should always be remem- 
bered that a single visual image is but one of the great 
number which compose the whole filmic pattern; and that 
effect is not gained by one shot but by a combination of 
shots. A visual image is present on the screen primarily 
to express a meaning; the quality of that expression is 
aided by the design of the pktorial composition of the 
image. It will be recalled that the damning fault of La 
Passion de Jeanne d'Arc was, strangely enough, the beauty 
of the visual images, which were so pleasing in themselves 
that they were detrimental to the expression of the theme. 
In other words, I remember La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc as 
a series of very beautiful compositions, but not as a film. 

When one separate visual image is seen on the screen 
there is usually movement present in some form, either of 
one or several objects or persons, taking place at the same 
time or in rotation. There are cases, however, when a 
series of wholly static compositions succeed one another in 
order to build up a solid atmospheric or psychological 
effect. 1 In these instances, the common rules of two- 
dimensional linear design govern the visual composition; 
whilst their order of appearance on the screen is a matter 
of assembling indicated by the desired mood. 

The attention of the spectator is drawn to the meaning 
of the dramatic content of a shot principally by move- 
ment and contrast of light and shade. It is common know- 
ledge that a moving object is apprehended by the eye very 
much quicker than a stationary one. In a shot of complete 
rest, a single small movement immediately attracts the 
attention of the spectator. Interest is at once aroused in 
the mind as to why the movement is taking place, zvhat is 
its direction and speed, and what bearing has it, or will it 
have, on the other objects in sight or whose presence is 
known ? When we realise that the spectators are focussing 

1 Refer to section of this chapter dealing with constructive editing 
and cutting, and note examples cited in The Living Corpse, Camille, 
Ten Days that Shook the World, New Babylon, etc. A series of 
static landscapes is also a favourite method of opening a film, e.g. 
Storm over Asia, Turk sib, and A Cottage on Dartmoor. 

377 



THE THEORETICAL 

their whole attention on a rectangular space, placed in the 
most advantageous position and the only conspicuous thing 
in a darkened house, it is obvious that the slightest move- 
ment on the part of an object, or person, on the screen at 
once compels the audience to watch it, fascinated by 
curiosity as to what is about to happen. 

The movement of the acting material that makes up 
pictorial composition has been likened to the movement of 
the ballet. The ballet demands simplified physical move- 
ment, both in balance and in contrast. A dancer's first 
knowledge is that of rhythm. Rhythmic movement of 
gestures is essential in the maintenance of the harmonious 
pictorial composition demanded by the film. The ballet has 
been described as the ' art of flowing movements \ A close 
analogy is to be found in the cinema. 

Perhaps the simplest, and incidentally the most impres- 
sive, form of movement in pictorial composition is a single 
repetitive motion. Its limited and monotonous repetition 
has immediate fascination. The knowledge that the move- 
ment can stray no further than its given path holds the 
mind of the spectator. A typical instance of this can be 
found in the motion of a crankshaft; a single allotted path 
which is followed again and again. Confined movement of 
machinery has been used with great power in many films 
(Berlin, Drifters, and, of course, La Marche des Machines). 
The constricted course and rhythm of a machine is not only 
compelling to watch but symbolical, also, of infinite though 
controlled power. 

American movies have become especially notorious for 
their ' movement '. They certainly contain a great amount 
of action of material itself, but there the claim ceases. 
Fairbanks is the individual hero of the action school, 
and his amazing acrobatics charge his films with a sense of 
speed. Movement is prevalent, too, in all films of chase 
and pursuit, such as the Westerns and the touch-and-run 
comedies. Movement of this kind is stimulating and 
invigorating, which no doubt accounts for the wide audience 
success of such types of films. 

378 



METHODS OF EXPRESSION 

In movement of pictorial composition, the eye of the 
spectator follows the direction of objects, or persons, in the 
space bounded by the margins of the screen. Pleasure is 
obtained by watching the moving objects, or persons, 
rhythmically changing their positions in relation one to 
another. Simple examples of this abound in the various 
abstract films of geometrical shapes, such as Sandy's Light 
and Shade} 

When there are two or more moving units in a composi- 
tion, then the relative movements of these units, as well as 
their individual motion, have to be considered, either in 
terms of contrast or symmetrical balance. Two converging 
streams of movement naturally emphasise the point of 
convergence. Symmetrical balance may be obtained by 
circular movement, such as a ring of prisoners walking 
slowly round a sentry, who is perhaps the centre of the 
circle, a fact which is stressed by his being placed on the 
apex of a triangular shadow, which stretches across the 
prison yard. This example was observed in Mother; a 
similar instance was found, but with lesser effect, in 
Vaudeville. A more complicated form of circular move- 
ment was seen in Murnau's Four Devils, where the camera 
itself was moving in an elliptical path following a horse 
round a circus ring. 

Direct lines of movement across the screen are affected 
by the same principles of two dimensional design. The 
co-ordinated movements of the crowds in that remarkable 
film, The Golem, have often been cited in this respect. Seen 
at times through a window, the crowds moved along 
narrow streets in straight lines and intersected straight 
lines across the screen. The fact that their direction was 
restricted and indicated by the walls of the streets added 
emphasis to their destination and intent. Probably the 
finest examples of streaming movement on various planes 
removed from the spectator were to be found in Battleship 

1 The value of movement, both simple and complex, is always well 
seen in alsolute films, hence one of the reasons why they should be 
closely studied by directors, and not dismissed, as is usually the case, as 
mere ' highbrow ' fripperies. 

379 



THE THEORETICAL 

Potemkin. Eisenstein's use of crowd movement is almost 
too well known to be quoted again. It is sufficient to recall 
the procession along the quay, balanced by the movement 
of the small boat; the townspeople of Odessa when they 
came in their hundreds to file past the dead body of the 
sergeant Waluckchuck; the scene of the three streams of 
movement, the crowd passing across the bridge in the 
distance at the top of the screen, the crowd on the right 
coming down the steps diagonally, and the crowd in the 
road in the foreground; and many shots of simple one- 
directional movement repeated again and again on the steps 
sequence. One recalls, also, how Eisenstein achieved co- 
ordination between pictorial composition and overlapping 
of movement by cutting. 1 It is of passing interest to com- 
pare the unforgettable scene on the steps of Odessa in 
Potemkin with the dreary procession in Martin Luther. 

Repetitive movements on more than one plane were well 
used in The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari to establish the 
mood of the fair scene. The units of movement were the 
two whirling roundabouts placed at the same angle but at 
different distances from the audience, who were introduced 
to the scene by a small vignette, the screen gradually 
lightening in a circular movement to reveal the whole. 
The isolated vignette of the moving roundabout, however, 
definitely suggested the nature of the scene, preparing the 
audience for the more important action that was to follow. 

The film is capable of representing movement of material 
in the most beautiful and stirring manner in order to 
establish and enhance atmospheric drama. Choosing at 
random, I remember the wind-swept clouds and the 
quivering branches of the solitary tree outside the cottage 
where Kean lay dying, in Volkoff's film of that name. The 
storm scene in The Student of Prague, when Veidt as 
Baldwin raved into the night to meet his second self at 
every turn, was filled with the tortured bending of trees, 
symbolical of the anguish raging in the student's mind. 
Again, the swaying earheads of corn, the hair of the 

1 Cf . pp. 232, 390. 

380 



METHODS OF EXPRESSION 

reapers blowing in the wind, the rhythmic movement of the 
scythes, and the excited rush to the village at the sound of 
the bell, suggested the power and movement of nature in 
The Peasant Women of Riazan. 

There are plentiful instances, also, of mood being 
emphasised by contrasted movement in light and shade, 
the most celebrated being in The Street. The bourgeois 
lay on the sofa in the darkened, motionless room, fascinated 
by the flickering shadows of the passers-by. The use of 
light and shade in Warning Shadows is too classic to be 
recapitulated. 1 

In the composition of large, heavy masses on the screen, 
it is more difficult to maintain balance than in the handling 
of direct lines of movement. The motion of a large mass 
may be considered both as an individual action, indicated 
by the dramatic content, and as a movement which alters 
the pattern of light and shade of the whole screen area. 
These two results of one action must be allowed for in the 
maintenance of the balance of the whole. The movement 
of a heavy mass in one portion of the screen immediately 
produces an unbalanced effect, which must be checked by 
a reciprocal movement of another mass or masses in other 
parts of the screen composition. Elementary examples of 
this are again to be found in experimental pattern films, 
such as those of the late Viking Eggeling. Movement of 
small masses, particularly when aggravated by light, pro- 
duces emotions of excitement and action ; whereas corres- 
ponding slow movements of large masses, notably when in 
shadow, produce emotions of depression, despair, and 
sinister dejection. The effect of these movements is 
heightened and lessened, as the mood of the scene demands, 
by the speed of the movement. With this in mind, it is 
significant to recall the effect of Emil Jannings's broad 
back and Pudovkin's use of sparkling points of sunlight on 
running water. 

Certain properties of the camera, such as the distortion 

1 Other recent examples worth mention were in Zoo in Budapest 
(1933), The Grapes of Wrath (1940), Great Expectations (1946) and 
Odd Man Out (1947). 

381 



THE THEORETICAL 

created by angle and concentration, have direct bearing on 
pictorial composition. 1 These peculiarities of the instrument 
should be reckoned with in the arrangement of the material 
being photographed. It has been understood that camera 
angle is used to emphasise and reveal dramatic content. 
There is, moreover, a relationship between the choice of 
angle and the arrangement of the pictorial composition, 
both of which are governed by the dramatic content of the 
shot. For example, the opening shot of the film Blackmail 
was a close-up, taken directly in elevation, of the hub of a 
revolving disc-wheel. Circular motion covered the whole 
screen area. There was little effect of movement. (People 
have complained since that they thought it was a gramo- 
phone disc.) Now this shot was intended to convey the 
feeling of speed, of the flying squad with which so much of 
the narrative of the picture was concerned, and the film was 
begun on this high note presumably to emphasise this. But 
the shot was ineffectual, for the reason that first, there was 
no contrast to the circular motion of the wheel; and 
secondly, there was no suspicion of dramatic angle. The 
shot was taken flat on. Had the director pre-visualised the 
meaning of that shot and its supreme importance as the 
highspot beginning, he would surely have taken it from an 
angle slightly above the wheel, showing the fast-moving 
tyre on the road as well as the fleeting edge of the curbstone. 
Thereby, he would have presented two contrasted move- 
ments in the one composition, emphasised by the dramatic 
position of the camera, which would have immediately sug- 
gested speed and its dramatic meaning to the audience. 
Compare, for instance, Fritz Lang's tremendously effective 
opening shot in The Spy with the example cited above. The 
case of the Blackmail opening shot was yet another instance 
of an enthusiastic director getting hold of a good idea but, 
in his enthusiasm failing to extract the utmost possible effect 
from it. It may be argued that a small shot such as this 
does not make much difference one way or the other. But 
these separate shots go to make up the whole, and in this 
1 Vide, Citizen Kane's photography by Gregg Toland (1941). 

382 



METHODS OF EXPRESSION 

particular case, the shot in question was the keynote to the 
drama of the important opening sequence. It was impera- 
tive for it to have been as effective as possible. It is in 
these small matters that the work of the greater directors, 
such as Pabst or Pudovkin, is flawless. Instinctively, they 
select the most expressive and the most vividly dramatic 
angle. Once more, it is a question of the wide difference 
that lies between genuine artistry and slick virtuosity. 

When considering the mobility of the camera, we have 
found that pictorial composition on the screen changed in 
relation to the movement of the instrument, and further 
that the camera's movement was governed by the material 
being photographed. Obviously, when the camera travels 
up to an object, the latter increases in size, altering thereby 
the pictorial composition. The reverse effect takes place 
when the camera is in retreat. An effect of growth and 
diminution in size is thus obtained, the whole screen com- 
position altering in proportion. 

Conclusion may be made, therefore, that as with other 
cinematic resources, pictorial composition is controlled by 
the dramatic content of the shot which it expresses. It 
will be evident, also, that dramatic effect during this second 
form of montage (i.e. the assemblage of the material to 
be photographed) is obtained by the use of movement in 
pictorial composition and camera position, as well as by 
camera angle and the consideration of film psychology. 

A further point which may be raised in connection with 
the pictorial composition of succeeding visual images on the 
screen is the unity of light throughout the length of a film. 
Degrees of light values naturally differ with the nature of 
the scene but the quality of light should remain of equal 
intensity throughout a sequence, unless a change is 
dramatically indicated, such as by the switching off of an 
electric light or the fading rays of the sun. It is common 
to find that light values differ from shot to shot, which 
does much to impair the desired effect of emotional com- 
pleteness. This is sometimes due to the practice of 
inserting lengths of news-reel for atmospheric effect or for 

383 



THE THEORETICAL 

crowd scenes, as well as for purposes of cross-reference by 
cutting (vide, A Cottage on Dartmoor and High Treason). 
This practice seriously interferes with the uniform intensity 
of light, which should be present equally in a long shot and 
a close-up during the same sequence. Powerful emotional 
effects, on the other hand, can be achieved by the subtle 
interplay of light values, by increasing and decreasing the 
intensity in accordance with the dramatic content. (Therese 
Raquin, Nezv Babylon, The General Line, and En Rade 
were good examples of this nicety of light expression.) 



Indirectly concerned with pictorial composition is the 
movement of the screen itself, a function that is as yet only 
in an experimental stage. From results already obtained, 
the magnascope may be reckoned of greater importance 
than a mere good advertising trick out of the bottomless 
box of the American showman. It has been called ' a form 
of close-up ', but although this is hardly correct, it is cer- 
tainly a legitimate form of emphasis. To date, the magna- 
scope has been used in London on four occasions : for the 
elephant stampede in Chang and for the sailing vessels in 
Old Ironsides, both at the Plaza Theatre during 1927; for 
the exciting aeroplane sequence in Wings and for the final 
desert fight in The Four Feathers at the Carlton Theatre in 
1928 and 1929, respectively. It may be added that these 
were all Paramount films shown at Paramount theatres, and 
that the process exhibited was invented by Glen Allvine of 
the Famous-Players-Lasky Company. The idea consisted 
of a supplementary lens on the projector which magnified 
the scene from the ordinary screen area on to an additional 
enlarged screen, so that the images almost appeared to 
emerge from the screen on to the audience. Apart from 
its unquestioned aid to the dramatic high-spots of a film, 
the magnascope involves no fresh principles of pictorial 
composition, being merely an enlargement of the ordinary 
film frame. Its use, however, is severely limited, for the 
change from the ordinary to the larger screen necessitates a 

384 



METHODS OF EXPRESSION 

complete re-adjustment of the eyes of the spectator; whilst 
the change back from the large screen to the small is a 
sharp anti-climax, requiring several minutes for the eyes 
to become accustomed to the different scale. From this it 
will be seen that the device becomes permissible only before 
an interval, or immediately before the ending of a film, in 
order to avoid the change. Another demerit of the magna- 
scope is that it causes the frame of the screen to become 
noticeable, which is undesirable, for it is the opening and 
closing movements of the screen margins which make the 
device possible. The fact of the screen altering its size 
during the progress of a film not only interrupts the con- 
centration of the audience, but makes them conscious of 
the screen itself, instead of the visual images upon it. The 
probable outcome of the magnascope will be the general 
adoption of larger screens in the majority of cinemas, for 
a larger screen area than that at present in use will un- 
doubtedly give an enhanced stereoscopic effect. 

The triptych screen, which has been seen only at the 
London Tivoli for the presentation of Abel Gance's 
Napoleon, was not on that occasion particularly successful. 
The effect was too overwhelming for the receptive power 
of the audience and tended to confuse rather than to impress 
the mind. For this device, the film was projected in the 
normal way on to a central screen. When a high-spot was 
reached, two side screens flanking the centre one were 
brought into play, and two other films were projected in 
synchronisation with the main film. For example, one 
instance depicted Napoleon reviewing his armies. On the 
centre screen appeared a stream of soldiers on a large scale, 
whilst on the side screens were two further processions, the 
scene on the left being the same as that on the right, but 
reversed. The troops at first formed three separate scenes, 
but later they mingled, forming one great river of the 
Grande Armee. The effect was dramatic but confusing. 

I understand that this multiple screen theory is being 
developed in New York, but I suggest that this ' progress 
of the cinema ' is far from achieving the unity of purpose 

385 25 



THE THEORETICAL 

demanded by a film. For normal intents and purposes, the 
simple flat screen of customary proportions is all that is 
necessary. It would be more satisfactory if these en- 
thusiasts spent their leisure in improving their knowledge 
of the film itself, rather than in evolving complicated 
methods of presentation. Mr. Harry Potamkin writes of 
a Compound Cinema, in which the rational centre screen is 
used for the projection of the main film, whilst slides or 
minor films are projected on to the walls and ceiling of the 
theatre to enhance the atmosphere of the main theme on 
the audience. The idea is admittedly novel, but it is 
doubtful if it tends to establish the film as a unity. 

(d) Constructive Editing and Cutting 

When analysing the final act of montage, which is the 
assembling of the various strips of film on which have 
been recorded photographically the incidents and material 
as indicated by the shooting-script, we can put aside all the 
resources of filmic representation that have so far been 
discussed. Camera angle, pictorial composition, movement 
of material and of camera, etc., have played their essential 
parts in the transference of the dramatic content on to 
strips of celluloid. It may be assumed that the content of 
the thematic narrative has been expressed to the fullest 
possible advantage by the resources of the film already 
utilised up to the time the picture leaves the studio floor, or 
the exterior location, as the case may be. There remains 
now the task of sorting out these strips of film and 
assembling them in an order of continuity of dramatic 
content. But it is essential to realise that a desired emo- 
tional effect cannot be gained by the mere indiscriminate 
assembling of bits of celluloid. The content that is photo- 
graphically recorded on these strips must have been borne in 
mind by the director from the origin of the shooting-script. 
Thus far, this final act of assemblage has been kept in view 
throughout the whole procedure. Amongst the hundreds 
of lengths of film that wait to be assembled, there will be 
many meaningless bits that are useless in themselves, but 

386 



METHODS OF EXPRESSION 

each will play its part in the building of the whole. Frame 
by frame, shot by shot, sequence by sequence, the film as a 
unity will be constructed. This final relation, inter-relation, 
and juxtaposition of the varying lengths of film will pro- 
duce cinematic effect on the audience, causing them to be 
roused in the most emotional degree. 

It has been made clear that constructive editing is the 
process of arranging strips of film in an order that expresses 
the dramatic content of the story with the greatest 
responsiveness. The strength and mood of these re- 
actions on the audience is affected by the methods of 
cutting, by variation in number of frames of each separate 
length of film and by the rhythm of material. 

The elementary principles of editing are as follows. First, 
it should be the aim of the director never to use a shot on 
the screen more than once if it has been taken from the 
same angle of vision, unless he should desire to emphasise 
a particular viewpoint. The screen will thus be kept con- 
stantly fresh and interesting to the audience. To show a 
thing more than once from the same angle is to invite 
monotony. The means whereby this choice of angles is 
calculated are determined by the changing dramatic content 
of the action. (Reference may here be made to the earlier 
section of this chapter dealing with camera capabilities, 
in particular to the subject of camera angles.) Secondly, 
a shot should be held only long enough on the screen to 
be taken in by the audience during a medium tension of 
emotion. The spectator should only be allowed sufficient 
time to realise the significance of the image, which has been 
aided by the pictorial composition. Thirdly, short cutting 
(being the use of small lengths of film, usually close-ups, but 
not necessarily so) should be employed to create high and 
exciting emotions, by a succession of short flashes in 
rhythmic order on the screen. Fourthly, long cutting (being 
the antithesis of short cutting) should be used for obtaining 
sad and soothing effects, which can be deliberately intensi- 
fied by the time-length of images on the screen. By varying 
combinations of these two extreme methods of cutting, 

387 



THE THEORETICAL 

together with the practice of cross-cutting by relation and 
contrast, almost any emotion of the human mind can be 
reached and made to react. 

The power of editing in the hands of a capable director 
is unlimited. By a proper understanding of the method 
he can cause any audience to be sad, thrilled, pathetic, 
joyous, angry, sympathetic, etc., according to his will, and 
thus compel them to take interest in the content of the 
theme that he is expressing on the screen. It is the greatest 
resource of the cinema for stirring and holding an audience 
en masse. Its force is not, perhaps, generally appreciated. 
A notable instance was seen at the first presentation of 
Pudovkin's The End of St. Petersburg at the Film Society, 
London, on 3rd February, 1929. At one portion of the 
film, the action was worked to a crescendo by gradual short- 
cutting, with the title ' All power to the Soviets ! ' at the 
peak of emotion. The audience was observed to start 
gradually stirring, then muttering, until eventually many 
persons rose to their feet, cheering and clapping. I do not 
believe that the word ' Soviets ' was of real importance, for 
had it been * Royalists ' or * Monarchists ' the effect would 
have been the same, due entirely to the emotions raised by 
the cutting. Much the same course of events took place 
among a working-class audience at the showing of Victor 
Turin's Turksib, at the Scala Theatre on 9th March 1930. 
The spectators in London were just as eager for the railway 
to be opened as were the peasants in Russia ! This advanced 
process of editing and cutting, together with remarkable 
use of the other properties of the medium, renders Soviet 
films the most emotionally powerful in the world. 

Pudovkin claims that every object, taken from a given 
viewpoint and reproduced on the screen in the form of a 
visual image, is a dead object, even though it may have 
movement, for this movement is that of material and not 
that of film. The object does not assume life until it is 
placed among other separate objects; until it is presented 
as being part of a synthesis of separate visual images. 
Every object brought upon the screen in the form of a 

388 



METHODS OF EXPRESSION 

visual image has not photographic but cinematographic 
essence given to it by editing. ' Editing is the creative 
force of filmic reality. Nature provides only the raw 
material/ (Vide, Film Weekly, 29th October 1928, 
translation by Ivor Montagu of the preface to Pudovkin's 
Manual of Film Direction and later published in Pudovkin 
on Film Technique [Gollancz, 1929].) 

This, then, is the relation between the film and reality, 
An actor at his best is but raw material for his future 
composition in visual images when edited. He is 
only the clay with which the director works. A landscape 
is but a mere photograph until it assumes its place in the 
organisation of visual images. The extraordinary truth of 
this shatters at one blow the whole idea of the star-system. 
Where now is Clara Bow's ' It ' ? In brief, therefore, we 
are to understand that the film director works with actual 
material, creating out of it a filmic reality. He composes, 
it will be remembered, filmic time and filmic space out of 
real material. The true aim of the film director is not 
realism, as is generally but erroneously supposed, but a 
reality of his own construction. 

Lev Kuleshov it will be recalled, logically maintained 
that in every art there must be, first, a material; and 
secondly, a method of composing that material arising out 
of the nature of the medium. 1 In the case of the film, we 
are now able to grasp fully the fact that the material is on 
the strips of film and the composing is the act of editing, 
which has been relegated in this present survey to the final 
act of montage. 

In the assembling of the different strips of film, it has 
been seen that it is necessary to be able to manipulate the 
number of frames that make up each separate shot, for 
the combination of these varying lengths creates the 
vibrating rhythm by which the film as a unity achieves life 
and breath, slackening and tightening the attention of the 
audience. 

In brief, editing resolves itself into the act of placing one 

i Vide, pp. 105, 228, 229. 

389 



THE THEORETICAL 

strip of film, bearing certain photographic images upon it, 
in front of or after another strip, recording either the same 
material seen from a different angle, or entirely fresh 
material. Two simple factors may be brought to bear on 
this relation between the two strips, each based upon the 
recognisable external characteristics of the pieces. First, 
film strips may be joined together according to a formulated 
scheme or metre, in harmony perhaps with the beats of 
synchronised music. Changing effects may be achieved by 
variations in the number of frames to a length, the balance 
of sequences (and consequently the whole film) being 
maintained by a repetition of the metre. The assembling 
may, therefore, be said to be a metric process of piece 
lengths, achieved by ' tape measurement \ 

From this elementary metric method it is but a step to 
assembling according to the movement of the screen 
material (i.e. the movement of the players, objects, etc., 
recorded on the film strips). The assembling determined 
by the metric process may be strengthened by a rhythmic 
relation of material movement between the separate piece 
lengths. The movement contained in one shot may be con- 
tinued into the next. Further, the predominant movement 
in a series of shots may be carried into the predominant 
movement in the succeeding series (e.g. the rhythmic 
movement of the soldiers descending the steps of Odessa in 
Battleship Potemkin merging into the rhythmic move- 
ment of the perambulator; the rhythm of the waving corn 
stalks in The General Line becoming submerged by the 
downward movement of the rain. Cf. also the bridge 
scene in Ten Days that Shook the World, page 232, and 
the cutting of Jeanne Ney, page 267). 

Beyond such assembling of shots by rhythmic and metric 
relations, further factors may be applied to the juxtaposition 
of film strips. For example, in a given sequence of shots, 
as well as there being an increase (or decrease) in movement 
of screen material and a formulated scheme for assembling 
according to numbers of frames, there may also be increase 
(or decrease) in the intensity of light values (from light to 

390 



METHODS OF EXPRESSION 

dark, or vice versa, as the sequence unfolds), as well as 
increase (or decrease) in intellectual values (as in the 
gallery of gods in Ten Days that Shook the World, which 
were arranged in the order of a descending intellectual 
scale). Moreover, as Eisenstein has pointed out, there is 
no difference between the physical movement expressed by 
simple metric or rhythmic assembling in a sequence and 
the movement of the intellectual process within that 
sequence, save that one results in a physiological effect and 
the other a psychological effect on the audience. 

Although each frame is one of a number, which in 
succession produce movement in a shot, it is possible also 
to use purely static shots to build up effects with cutting. 
A series of shots, each one static, achieves an emotional 
effect quite different in feeling from a succession of shots 
showing movement. For example, Eisenstein in Ten Days 
that Shook the World brought all the religions in the world 
to bear upon a certain point, simply by a succession of 
' still ' shots of religious symbols, such as the Buddha, the 
Cross, and savage heathen fetishes. It was, so to speak, 
the director's comment on the action of the context, 
exemplary of ' intellectual cinematography \ Again, when 
establishing the environment of tradition and pompous 
imperial taste in art at the Winter Palace, in St. Petersburg, 
he used a series of static shots, taken from dramatic low- 
level angles, of cornices and capitals, column-shafts and 
chandeliers — a solemn comment on wasted magnificence. 
A sudden realisation of disgust was raised in the mind of 
the spectator at this luxury, so useless and so meaningless, 
by a simple, slow succession of silent, still, visual images. 
More recent examples of this method were seen in 
Kozintzev and Trauberg's New Babylon. 

The effect of movement in cutting may be measured by 
contrast with a stationary object, just as dark is given 
value by light. This form of contrast may frequently be 
achieved by means of the process of cross-cutting from a 
moving object to a stationary one, and repeating the pro- 
cedure. An admirable example may be found in a cavalry 

391 



THE THEORETICAL 

charge. In order to gain the greatest effect of this action 
on an audience, alternate close-ups are shown in rapid 
succession of the hooves of the horses in fast movement 
over the cobblestones, and of the static, bronze hooves of an 
equestrian statue. The alternate cross-cutting from swift 
action to static rigidity, when repeated, achieves remarkable 
dramatic intensity, far more powerful in every way than 
a conventional shot of the charge as usually employed, as 
for example in Balaclava. Many other examples of cross- 
cutting abound. In the night-club scene in Crisis, Pabst 
wished to arouse in the mind of the audience the emotions 
created by syncopation and jazz. He obtained this by taking 
a shot, with his camera travelling backwards, of a pair of 
exhibition dancers coming forward with typical rhythmic 
movements, cutting alternately from close-ups of their 
heads to close-ups of their feet. In this way he achieved 
a cinematic result impossible with a straight shot of the 
pair. During the opening sequence of Berlin, Ruttman 
wished to express the rhythm of an express train. He 
intercut short flashes of the wheels, of the telegraph wires 
and of the rails with one longer shot of the coupling 
between two of the coaches. Thereby he obtained an effect 
of 'three shorts and a long', as it were, causing the audience 
to visualise an emotion that they had experienced them- 
selves in reality. Similar effects of cross-cutting to achieve 
rhythmic movement were found in the railway scenes of 
Room's Bed and Sofa, and in Dziga-Vertov's telegraph 
wire sequence in The Eleventh Year. Much of the secret 
of arousing these feelings in the audience lies in the subtlety 
with which emotions latent in their minds are awakened. 
Often it is not desired to stir fresh emotions but to create 
old ones by stressing the rhythm, which was probably un- 
recognised by the observer before it was seen on the screen. 
By constructive editing it is possible to convey the 
dramatic content of an occurrence without even showing 
the actual happening. Pudovkin gives an instance of an 
explosion, which he used in The End of St. Petersburg. 
In order to render the effect of this explosion with absolute 

392 



METHODS OF EXPRESSION 

fidelity, he caused a charge of high explosive to be buried 
and had it detonated. The explosion was terrific, but 
filmically it was quite ineffective. So by means of editing, 
he built an explosion out of small bits of film, by taking 
separate shots of clouds of smoke and of a magnesium 
flare, welding them into a rhythmic pattern of light and 
dark. Into this series of images, he cut a shot of a river 
that he had taken some time before, which was appropriate 
owing to its tones of light and shade. The whole 
assembly when seen on the screen was vividly effective, but 
it had been achieved without employing a shot of the real 
explosion. In another instance, in Mother, he obtained effect 
by symbolic intercutting. The son was in prison. He 
received a note, passed to him surreptitiously, informing 
him that he was to be set free on the following day. The 
task was to show his joy filmically, and to make the audience 
participate in it. The mere photographing of the boy's 
face lighting up with joy would have been ineffectual and 
banal. Pudovkin showed, therefore, the nervous play of 
his hands and a big close-up of the lower half of his face, 
his lips faintly twisting into a smile. With these shots he 
cut in others of a brook, swollen with the rapid How cf 
spring, of the play of sunlight broken into points of light 
on the water, of birds splashing in the village pond, and 
finally, of a laughing child. By composing these into a 
whole, it was possible to give the emotions which the boy 
felt in prison when he knew that he was to escape. But 
it is, of course, to be realised that this constructive editing 
of material is primarily a matter of preconception in the 
film's script. The extension of the method is apparent 
and it will be appreciated how wide is the scope opened up 
by its potentialities. 

An interesting point which arises in the rhythmic juxta- 
position of film strips, is the overlapping of movement of 
the material from one shot into another. It is customary 
to find that when one visual image succeeds another on the 
screen, both showing an object moving in the same direction 
but each viewed from a different angle, the movement in 

393 



THE THEORETICAL 

the second shot begins where the movement in the first 
left off. But there may be an overlapping of movement, 
in that the same piece of action is in reality seen twice by 
the audience from different viewpoints. This is not by any 
means to be taken as an instance of careless cutting. On 
the contrary, it emphasises the movement of the pictorial 
composition and enhances the dramatic effect of that move- 
ment. Allusion has already been made to the fact that the 
line of soldiers in Battleship Potemkin descended over 
many steps more than once when seen on the screen. The 
same effect was experienced when the statue of the Czar fell 
to pieces and then came together again in Ten Days that 
Shook the World, and also in the famous scene of the 
raising of the bridge. It was seen again in the felling of the 
trees in Turin's Turksib. This practice of overlapping 
movement encourages and makes use of latent dramatic 
content in the mind of the spectator. It serves to weld the 
images into a firm whole by a process that can perhaps be 
described as dovetailing. Its neatness and precision are 
both comforting and stimulating. It adds, as it were, a sort 
of double-kick to the movement. 1 

In such pattern films as La Marche des Machines and 
Skyscraper Symphony, it is common to find an effect of 
balance built up by a series of succeeding shots, with the 
weight distributed diagonally on alternate sides of the screen 
in each image. For example, a shot is shown of a steam 
shovel on one side of the screen, followed by the same shot 
reversed so that the steam shovel is seen on the other side. 
This, in turn, is followed by a double exposure shot com- 
bining the two preceding shots, one on top of the other, so 
that the steam shovel appears on both sides of the screen 
simultaneously. The same has been done with shots taken 
of a building from below, the roof first cutting the screen 
diagonally from left to right and then from right to left. It 
is a matter of balanced design. The same method can 
equally well be applied to movement. A shot showing an 

1 There are numerous examples of this overlapped movement in the 
documentary film of The Times newspaper, The Fourth Estate (1939-40). 

394 



METHODS OF EXPRESSION 

object moving across the screen from left to right may be 
succeeded by a shot showing the reverse action. This will 
reveal the close connection that exists between editing and 
the pictorial composition of the visual images. The use of 
dissolves and mixes in cutting in sympathy with the mood 
of the content has been considered earlier, and the reader is 
referred to the example taken from The Living Corpse 
cited on pages 355, 356. 

It will have been observed from these brief remarks on the 
building of a unified film that every frame and every shot is 
of the utmost significance to the composition of the whole. 
It can be understood, therefore, how deep a resentment is 
felt by a director when many shots and even sequences are 
removed from his completed film in order, perhaps, to meet 
a censor's requirements, or to conform to an executive's 
conception of box-office. Theoretically the removal of one 
shot from a complete film throws out the unity of the 
balance, even as pieces of stamp-paper stuck over the nude 
parts of pictures in the National Gallery would destroy 
appreciation of them as whole compositions. The outcry 
in the Press at such an act of vandalism can well be 
imagined ; but few realise to what an extent a film may be 
damaged by an official board or by a renter. It is not to be 
wondered that the only course left open to the director so 
affected is to disclaim his own work, a film on which he 
has perhaps spent months of care and toil. 



(e) The Placing of Titles 1 

The literary value of titles or sub-titles (frequently mis- 
called ' captions ') is strictly a matter of scenario planning. 
It has been seen that a title is employed in a film to connect 
sequences in smooth continuity and also to introduce 
characters to the audience. When it is not mere super- 
fluity, the general use of titles is mostly due to an 

1 These remarks have been left in this revised version because in 
view of the developments in educational films, titling is still an important 
element in film technique. 

395 



THE THEORETICAL 

insufficient employment of the resources of the medium 
Theoretically, the use of a title from a literary point of 
view is unwarranted if the full cinematic properties of the 
medium have been utilised by the director. That this is 
possible has been conclusively proved by such films as The 
Last Laugh, Warning Shadows and New Year's Eve. 
Titles are only really justified in the cultural and educational 
film for explanatory purposes. 

A title should be visual as well as literary. Its place 
among the continuity of visual images must be decided 
by pictorial qualifications as well as by meaning. A well- 
titled film is one in which the titles harmonise with the 
visual images so perfectly that their presence as titles is 
not remarked. The length of a title must be considered 
in ratio to the speed of the scene in which it is inserted. 
Quick, exciting action needs short, succinct titles, at times 
simply a single word flashed at the audience. For this 
reason, the Soviet directors use split titles and repetitive 
wording. Slow, deliberate action, on the other hand 
demands slow, deliberate titles. 

Titles may be used as a means of preparing the audience 
for a scene by suggesting in advance the dramatic content 
that is to be unfolded. A perfect example of this was 
quoted by Mr. Sergei Nalbandov (writing in The Cinema, 
7th August 1929) from the film Mother. A title ' Waiting ' 
preceded a shot of a cavalry platoon, which was awaiting 
the coming of a procession towards a prison. The meaning 
of this title was bound up with the close-ups which 
succeeded it on the screen, of the hoof of a horse pawing 
the ground and a rider adjusting the buckle of his straps. 

A title is often to be rendered more potent by splitting 
it into sections among a series of visual images. A 
title begins with a few words; it is cut to a series 
of visual images; the title continues; again it is cut 
to a series of relevant shots; the title finishes; it is 
succeeded by a further flow of images. Greater stress of 
meaning, of pictorial rather than of literary value, is gained 
by this division. A case in point was to be found in the 

396 



METHODS OF EXPRESSION 

introduction of the workers in the early part of The End 
of St. Petersburg. 

Simple repetition of a title at spaced intervals is also 
found to be dramatically effective by its very rhythmic 
insistence. The same title may punctuate a film at given 
moments, driving home not the meaning of the title, but 
the meaning of the sequence and the whole meaning of the 
theme. This was used with much feeling with the title 
* Mother ', in the film of that name, and was also a con- 
spicuous part of the construction of Ten Days that Shook 
the World, New Babylon, and Turksib. This fact may be 
given support in that when I saw for the first time a copy 
of Battleship Potemkin, the titles were in Russian, a 
language incomprehensible to me, and yet their pictorial 
quality added greatly to the drama of the film. 

An appreciation of the titling of Victor Turin's Turksib 
appeared in the Sunday Observer, for 23rd March 1930, 
and is worth citing : '. . . I have been waiting a great many 
years to see a film in which the titles would play a definite 
part in the visual and emotional progress of idea ... In 
Turksib the titling is inseparable from the sweep of the 
film ... I cannot describe the curious assault on the senses 
of those moving arrangements of letters, the cumulative 
effect of the final titles with their massive cadences. The 
words of Turksib are images; integral, triumphant, 
menacing. They are symbols of disaster and determination, 
fear and terrific jubilation. They have no longer sound 
or aural meaning — they are eye-images, mute, rapid, and 
wrought from the emotional fibre of the film itself.' This 
criticism is all the more interesting in that it comes from 
the pen of an advocate of the dialogue film. 1 

Other interesting experiments with the placing of titles 
have been attempted, notably by Pudovkin, who makes a 
practice of inserting spoken dialogue titles at the moment of 

1 The titles in the British version of Turksib were designed and 
inserted by John Grierson. This method of split-titling and the dynamic 
use of lettering was later explored at great length by the Empire 
Marketing Board Film Unit, in particular in its short ' poster ' films and 
'trailers', and in Contact (1932). 

397 



THE THEORETICAL 

utterance but not in conjunction with the visual image of 
their speaker. 

It may be remarked that the design and word lay-out of 
a title should be as simple as possible. The quietest form 
of lettering should be used; the wording should be of the 
briefest and clearest nature; the ground should be dark, 
with the lettering a dull grey. The customary title is 
positively sparkling, with white scrawly lettering jumping 
about on an imitation leather background, which is the 
exact opposite to the requirements of a visual title. 
Various devices exist for the expansion of lettering, and 
may be used in accordance with the dramatic need of the 
title. 

(/) The Visual Addition of Colour and the 
Stereoscopic Screen 

The novelty of colour has always been a trick out of 
the showman's big box, and has been produced from time 
to time as an attractive selling addition to a super film. The 
advent of the dialogue and sound film is considered by some 
persons to make colour and stereoscopic effect a necessity. 
It depends entirely from what point of view we regard the 
cinema. The coloured stereoscopic film will give, when 
combined with sound and dialogue, a sense of realism. 
This, as has been explained earlier, is in the opposite 
direction to the proper aim of the film, which is reality. At 
the present moment, the marvellous decorative values that 
result from the use of panchromatic stock are more than 
sufficient for the needs of a director whose ambition is to 
convey dramatic content. It is necessary only to recall the 
beauty of The General Line, Moana, and La Passion de 
Jeanne d'Arc to realise this. But colour as an asset to 
showmanship is a different matter altogether. 

In the history of colour films an episode in bright tones 
has often provided a novel attraction to jaded audiences, 
and its inclusion has generally been a concession to the 
taste of the masses. It will be remembered that Griffith 

398 



METHODS OF EXPRESSION 

used colour for certain of the sensational portions of Way 
Down East in 1920, but as Mr. Eric Elliott shrewdly 
observes, he had the discretion to restrict these coloured 
sensations to irrelevant pieces of action that were of little 
dramatic value, such as the dress parade (vide, The 
Anatomy of Motion Picture Art, Eric Elliott [Pool], 
1928). In 1922, Stuart Blackton made The Glorious 
Adventure with the glorious Diana Cooper in colour, 
achieving, I believe, considerable commercial success. A 
year later, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's Toll of the Sea in 
Technicolor, with Anna May Wong and Kenneth Harlan, 
is said to have presented colour in almost acceptable tone 
values ; and later still, Stuart Blackton repeated his success 
with The Virgin Queen. America produced The Wanderer 
of the Wasteland and France a gaudy Cyrano de Bergerac. 
After a time, it became fashionable to include a colour 
sequence, as often as not as the high-spot of the picture, and 
in this patchy vein are numbered parts of Ben-Hur, Michael 
Strogoff, Casanova, The Fire Brigade, The Sea Beast, The 
Merry Widow, and The Wedding March. Douglas Fair- 
banks's The Black Pirate, which was entirely in colour, was 
more successful, but it is understood that he will not re- 
peat his experiment. Since that date, colour films have been 
produced plentifully, but I have seen none which has been 
satisfactory. 

Although, up to the present, colours glow and pale at 
alternate moments (reds are revolutionary, yellows are 
dirty, greens are sickly, grass like that in fruiterers' shops, 
skies like aluminium, and flesh tints jaundiced), there is 
definite promise that the technical process will be soon 
perfected and generally on view. Assuming the possibility 
of perfect colour reproduction, however, it is hard to see 
where its use is of more value than the already existing 
beauties of panchromatic stock. It certainly holds out no 
advantages for the purpose of enhancing dramatic values. 
On the contrary, the most serious objection to be levelled 
against the colour film is its tendency to submerge the 
admirable photographic qualities of the visual image on the 

399 



THE THEORETICAL 

screen and hinder it from fulfilling its proper functions. 
The curious softness that will be produced by correct tone 
values all over the screen area will lack contrast and will 
immediately deaden dramatic effect, despite any resulting 
stereoscopy. Furthermore, it will be an intense strain to dis- 
tinguish the presence and movement of separate objects in 
the coloured composition. Attempts will be made to imitate 
the drama contained in static paintings, which will fail 
miserably in the essentially dynamic medium of the film. 
There will be a sort of pre-Raphaelite dullness about the 
colour film which will deaden general appeal. The crisp- 
ness of black and white, with intervening tones, is eminently 
desirable for the dramatic expression of filmic content. 
In the monochrome film of to-day, the natural tendency of 
the eyes of the spectator is to flow from the dark parts of 
the screen to the light. In the coloured screen composition, 
the eyes will wander aimlessly over the various forms 
without discrimination. Colour will tend to slacken the 
concentration of the mind of the audience. Spectators will 
easily be led away from the centre of interest by colour 
emotions, peculiar to each person. No two people see the 
same colour alike. The effect will be chaos instead of 
unity. Finally, it is impossible to believe that colour will 
improve, either dramatically or pictorially, films of the 
calibre of The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari, with its terms 
of contrast; Siegfried, with its wonderful striped and 
spotted decorations, its mists and black tree trunks; La 
Passion de Jeanne d'Arc, with its detailed textures and 
shimmering backgrounds; or Thercse Raquin, with its 
subtle intensities of light values and sparkling points on 
the dress of Jean-Marie Laurent. Practically the whole 
dramatic and decorative effect of these works, perfect in 
their own class as they stand, would be lost by the use of 
colour, granting every possible perfection of the technical 
process. 

The use of amber or blue-tinted stock, which produces 
a pale colour tint evenly over the whole screen area, is 
another matter for consideration. This method of tinting 

400 



METHODS OF EXPRESSION 

the whole scene is justifield in that it enhances the dramatic 
effect, provided, that is, the tone is kept even with the 
volume of light throughout the whole sequence in which it 
is used. Both blue and amber tones are capable of helping 
the atmosphere of night and sunlight. All-over colour tints 
are also used to good advantage in certain silhouette films, 
where their inclusion has been a part of the decoration, 
in the same way that colour is part of a book decoration. 
The use here is not to attempt either realism or reality, but 
for the purpose of pure decoration. 

In the past, apart from, say, the early Pathecolor films 
which were clumsily tinted all over with various hues, there 
have been some curious experiments with colouring certain 
portions of a visual image, such as a fiery cross or a blood- 
stained dagger. The idea seems crude in the extreme and 
wholly unnecessary. 

With the general adoption of perfected colour films will 
also come the use of the stereoscopic screen, which purports 
to give visual images three, instead of two, dimensions. 
Beyond promising to present an illusion of solidity, without 
either advantage or disadvantage to the pictorial compo- 
sition, it is difficult to see quite what asset, beyond novelty, 
the stereoscopic screen will possess. Its harm to the general 
conception of the film will, on the other hand, be great. 
Firstly, it must be realised that three dimensions will not 
enhance the pictorial value of the visual images except by 
suggesting an illusion of depth, which the screen already 
possesses in the movement of camera and players. Actual 
solidity of objects will tend to enhance realism. Secondly, 
the stereoscopic screen is of much larger dimensions than 
the customary screen, 1 and this will influence directors to 
adopt a more theatrical form of technique. There will 
be a tendency to hold the duration of a scene on the screen 
longer and longer, already the pre-eminent characteristic 

1 It is understood that the Spoor-Bergen process, which uses a film 
half an inch wider than the present standard one and three-quarter inch 
material, demands a screen forty feet wide, enabling a right illusion of 
depth to be given, and will eliminate the close-up. One more nail in 
the coffin of the real cinema ! 

401 26 



THE THEORETICAL 

of dialogue films. Gradually the powerful resources of 
cutting and editing will be forgotten and instead there will 
be long scenes lasting for minutes. There will be move- 
ment of players but there will be no movement of film, a 
characteristic that already marks the American film. The 
real functions of the resources of the film will no longer 
be possible with the colour-stereoscopic-and-dialogue film. 

I fear that, year by year, realism will usurp reality in 
the cinema. Less and less imagination in the mind of the 
audience will be called for by this ' progress \ As Mr. 
Elliott observes, * An imaginary depiction of a scene gives 
more reality in drama than does actual presentation/ The 
realistic effect aimed at by the colour-stereoscopic-and- 
dialogue film destroys the pictorial, symbolic, psychological, 
and imaginative properties of the film. Obviously, the 
stereoscopic screen is capable of presenting remarkable 
effects, but these will be catch-penny and sensational as dis- 
tinct from the function of the film as a medium of dramatic 
expression. The new forms of the illegitimate cinema 
will, of course, be heavily financed by America, who 
includes these commercial opportunities in her vast scheme 
for capturing the entertainment market of the world. On 
these lines will the film retrace its steps, becoming a 
mechanical means for the theatrical presentation of 
spectacles superior commercially to the stage. 



These, then, comprise the means of expression of the 
dramatic content of a theme by the visual form of the 
cinema. The natural properties of the film, arising out of 
its limits and delimits, have been considered at length. The 
projected addition of colour and stereoscopic effect have 
been investigated for any value they may bring to the 
cinema. It remains now to analyse the qualities of the 
dialogue and sound film, both as an integral part of the 
visual images on the screen and as an accompaniment in 

402 



METHODS OF EXPRESSION 

the form of the synchronisation of mechanically reproduced 
sound. 



(II) The Visual and the Audible Cinema 

In the preceding sections it has been seen that a film is 
built by the process of cine-organisation. This process has 
been divided simply into three forms of montage. To re- 
capitulate briefly, the first act of montage is the assembling 
of the scenario by the preconception of the selected theme, 
as it would be expressed by the resources of the cinema. 
The second act of montage deals with these methods of 
expression during the actual process of taking the film 
photographically, as indicated by the shooting-script. The 
third and final act of montage consists in the assembling 
or mounting of the pieces of film bearing the photographic 
images, joining them in various lengths and positions in 
relation to one another in order to form a united whole. 
These three acts of montage are the means by which a story 
or theme is translated into a succession of visual images 
on the screen; which is capable of producing considerable 
emotional effect on any given audience of people in any 
part of the world. 

Further, a supplementary section was added in order to 
consider the possible advantages that might be derived 
from two technical inventions, the colour film and the 
stereoscopic screen, with a view to adding them to the 
already existing forms of cinematic expression. For the 
purpose of argument, perfection was assumed in the 
mechanical process of these inventions, and it was found 
that neither contributed in any degree of value to the 
powers of expression already belonging to the film. 

It is of urgent importance now to estimate the value, if 
any, of synchronised sound and dialogue reproduction as 
a means of expression of the dramatic content of a theme. 
Again, for all intents and purposes, perfection of the 
mechanical device is to be assumed. 

General agreement has been reached by writers and 

403 



THE THEORETICAL 

theorists on this exceptionally interesting new invention, 
that the sound-dialogue-visual film must be considered as 
a form of expression quite separate from the silent visual 
film with which these pages are principally concerned. 1 

It is necessary first to show, then, why this separation of 
the so-called two techniques is impossible; secondly, why 
the combination of the two techniques, when including 
direct-reproduced dialogue, is equally unfeasible; and 
thirdly, how, with the use of synchronised sound alone, it 
is possible to conceive a film as a unity, employing sound 
as a resource of the cinema, and incorporating it in the 
three forms of montage out of which a film is built. 

(a) The Sound-Dialogue-Visual Film 

It will be agreed that the aim of the sound-dialogue- 
visual film is the same as that of the silent visual film with 
musical accompaniment. To wit, to express cinematically 
the dramatic content of a theme or story so as to produce 
the greatest possible emotional effect on the mind of an 
audience. 

The silent film seeks this effect by means of a succession 
of visual images on the screen. The sound-dialogue-visual 
film seeks the same end by means of a series of visual images 
on the screen combined with the reproduction of the voices 
and sounds of those images. In the first case, the appeal of 
the film lies absolutely in the vision of the images on the 
screen, soothed and emphasised by a musical accompani- 
ment. In other words, the mind of the spectator is appealed 
to through the eye, the music being a subconscious supple- 
ment that by its apparent sympathy aids the smooth recep- 
tion of the images. In the second, the appeal of the film 
is divided jointly between the sight of the images on the 

1 The number of articles, arguments, discussions, lectures, manifestos, 
conversaziones and debates on the merits and demerits of the talking 
and silent film has been positively amazing. The general public have 
had ballots; the Press have had columns; and the atmosphere in the 
studios themselves has been unprecedented. Probably no other invention 
for public entertainment has had so much free publicity as the ' talkie ', 

404 



METHODS OF EXPRESSION 

screen and the reproduction of the spoken dialogue and 
sound of those images. Screen and dialogue are seeking 
reception in the mind of the audience through the eye and 
ear. 

Now it is an accepted and established fact that illumina- 
tion of the mind by visual impression is practically instan- 
taneous, whilst the literary meaning of speech requires an 
appreciable amount of time to produce its effect. The sensa- 
tion caused in the mind by a visual image is not only sharper, 
but more apprehensible and more lasting than that caused 
by sound or speech. The eye is capable of associating 
ideas very much quicker and of creating a more definite 
impression in a given period of time than the ear. But 
when a visual image is seen on the screen and dialogue is 
synchronised to its action, although the visual image is 
received quicker than the dialogue, the latter commands 
more attention, for it is literary and non-imaginative. 
There results immediate confusion in the joint appeals of 
the reality of the visual image and the realism of the dia- 
logue. Continual adjustment and readjustment of the 
senses occurs, which is an inconceivable state of mind for 
the sympathetic reception of the dramatic emotions of a 
film as a unity. Dialogue and the visual image cannot thus 
be divided in their appeals if dramatic effect is to be 
achieved. They can only be considered as a unity. 

But it has been decided that the most dramatic possible 
method of telling a story is by a succession of pictures. 
No power of speech is comparable with the descriptive value 
of photographs. The attempted combination of speech and 
pictures is the direct opposition of two separate mediums, 
which appeal in two utterly different ways. If the two are 
wedded, one must be subordinated to the other, and at 
once division of appeal will occur. For this reason a silent 
visual film is capable of achieving a more dramatic, lasting, 
and powerful effect on an audience by its singleness of 
appeal than a dialogue film, in which the visual image is, 
at its best, a photograph of the voice. Blackmail, one of the 
so-called good dialogue films, will be completely forgotten 

405 



THE THEORETICAL 

in a few months by those who have seen it. Battleship 
Potemkin, seen four years ago, is as vivid in the mind now 
as it was then. Immediately a voice begins to speak in a 
cinema, the sound apparatus takes precedence over the 
camera, thereby doing violence to natural instincts. 

A theory, not without considerable interest, has been 
advanced that any compound which relies on the joint 
appeal of the two senses of sight and sound must utilise 
to the full the powers of its component methods. The 
balance between sound and sight will vary with the power 
of each to interpret the progressive development of the 
dramatic content of the theme. The synchronised film is 
to vary between sight accompanied by sound or silence, 
and sound accompanied by sight. 1 But this again is directly 
opposed to the interests of the film as a unity. If any sort 
of consistent dramatic effect is to be made on an audience, 
division of appeal between sound and sight is simply 
courting disaster. It has been evidenced over and over 
again that a film must be a single united whole in order to 
achieve strong emotional effect, and the moment that both 
eye and ear are brought into conflict the success is negatived. 

Of the resources of the cinema that are used during 
the process of cine-organisation and out of which a film 
is built, it has been clearly seen that the final act of montage 
(the assembling or editing) is the dominant factor of the 
construction. For the further progress of the film, there- 
fore, the only factors that need be taken into consideration 
are those capable of emphasising the cinematic result pro- 
duced by the assembling. With the advent of the 
possibility of utilising synchronised dialogue and sound, it 
is necessary to consider how these new values affect the 
assembling. 

It will have been understood that the final act of 
montage attains its desired effect by the conjoining of 
pieces of film into a whole. That is, no single piece of film 
is of value without its surrounding context. Now the 
addition of sound and dialogue to the visual image on the 
1 Mr. Vernon J. Clancey, writing in The Cinema, 4th September, 1929. 

406 



METHODS OF EXPRESSION 

screen will tend to emphasise its isolated significance by 
reason of the fact that, as the sound and dialogue take 
longer to apprehend than the visual image, the duration of 
time that the shot is held on the screen will be determined 
by the sound and dialogue instead of by the assembling. 
Dialogue, by very reason of its realism, represents real 
time and not the filmic time of the visual image. Obviously 
this is in direct opposition once more to all the dominant 
factors that have been proved to achieve emotional effect 
by visual images. 

At once it will be observed that synchronised sound and 
dialogue impose severe restrictions on the process of film 
construction, whereas before there was none. Moreover, 
it is quite impossible to entertain the prospect of a film in 
which visual images play a part without their being orga- 
nised by creative montage. Added to this, dialogue imposes 
such restrictions on the director that all forms of cutting 
and cross-cutting become impossible. In fact, as has been 
realised by ' Mercurius ' in the Architectural Review (June 
1929) : ' The significance of symbolism and (visual) 
imagery, the stimulating and sedative effect of short and 
long cutting, the interplay of the personal and the inani- 
mate, the contrast between the general and the particular; 
in short, practically all the attributions of the silent film 
which make the reality of cinematic art are forced into 
subjection by the illusion of synchronised speech/ 

Again it is found that the reproduction of dialogue 
demands almost stationary action in its accompanying visual 
image, which prevents freedom in the development of the 
action during any sequence. Thus action has to progress 
step by step, destroying, as it jerks forward, both rhythmic 
continuity and harmony. 1 It is no longer a film. It has 
returned to the early photo-play of theatrical tradition. 
Moreover, it is to this state of retrogression that the stereo- 
scopic screen and colour film are forcing the cinema. 

There can only be one legitimate use for the dialogue 

1 Heart-rending evidence of this was clearly instanced in what must 
be one of the worst films ever produced, The American Prisoner. 

407 



THE THEORETICAL 

film and that is the topical newsreel. Here the appeal 
to the mind is quite different, for there is no aim at 
dramatic effect in news-speeches. They are simply a record 
in which the interest lies more in the speech than in the 
visual image. They are not constructed films seeking to 
achieve the dramatic effect of a story. They are an 
elementary form of the cinema ' without joy ', and, con- 
sidered as such, are only of casual and historic interest. 

It may be concluded that a film in which the speech and 
sound effects are perfectly synchronised and coincide with 
their visual images on the screen is absolutely contrary to 
the aim of the cinema. It is a degenerate and misguided 
attempt to destroy the real use of the film and cannot be 
accepted as coming within the true boundaries of the 
cinema. Not only are dialogue films wasting the time of 
intelligent directors, but they are harmful and detrimental 
to the culture of the public. The sole aim of their producers 
is financial gain, and for this reason they are to be resented. 
Any individual criticism that may be made of them may be 
considered as having no connection with the natural course 
of the film. This, as will be seen, lies in the plastic moulding 
of sound and visual images. 



(b) The Sound and Visual Cinema 

The mechanical reproduction of sound, considered apart 
from the audible properties of speech, is an added resource 
to the already existing factors of filmic representation. 
Sound is to be included among these factors, having its 
place in all three acts of montage, and assuming final 
position as the basis of the musical score which accompanies 
the film. 1 

Generally speaking, a musical accompaniment to a film is 
considered desirable and has been customary through the 
years. It is essential, however, for the musical score to be 

1 Some indication of what will be possible is apparent from Arthur 
Honegger's musical composition, Pacific 231. 

408 



METHODS OF EXPRESSION 

a part of the construction of the film, and not simply an 
arrangement of popular pieces suited to the theme by the 
leader of the orchestra in a cinema-house. Certain attempts 
have been made during the last few years to meet this 
requirement of a specially composed score, notable instances 
being Edmund Meisel's music for Berlin, Ten Days that 
Shook the World, and Potemkin, and that by Darius Mil- 
haud for THerbier's L'lnhumaine. Meisel has also written 
a score for mechanical reproduction, The Crimson Circle, 
which was a moderately successful experiment. The 
obvious difficulties of circulating music for orchestras and 
the varying quality of the latter have rendered these 
attempts limited, except in the cases of the theme song, 
which was considered a part of the popular appeal of a 
movie and has been exploited widely by American firms. 
The mechanical reproduction of the sound film, however, 
admirably fulfils this desire for a specially composed score, 
and on this count alone is to be welcomed as a definite step 
forward in the advance of the film. Assuming the 
perfection of mechanical reproduction, the synchronised 
score is better suited in every way to the presentation of 
a film than the orchestral accompaniment of the past. 

Sound, then, has to be considered as a means of dramatic 
expression of the content of the theme, in conjunction with 
the succession of visual images on the screen. It must be 
realised, however, that in the case of the sound film, the 
combination lies between sound and sight, and not, as in 
the dialogue film, between speech and sight. The differences 
are apparent. Sound has not to be understood literally 
as has dialogue and does not interfere with the visual 
appeal of the screen. On the other hand, it inclines, if 
used rightly, to emphasise and strengthen the meaning of 
the visual image. It is essential to realise the importance 
of this difference between the sound of objects and the 
sound of speech, for therein lies the essence of the advance 
or the retardment of the cinema. It is to be clearly under- 
stood, also, that the question of filmic time and actual time, 
so damaging in the dialogue film, does not enter into the 

409 



THE THEORETICAL 

matter of the sound film. Sound is the result of the action 
seen in the visual image, which is not lengthened or altered 
in any way to suit the sound, as must be the case with re- 
produced dialogue. 

Thus, although built into the construction of the film, 
sound does not interfere with the visual reception of the 
images. There are now sound images as well as visual 
images, each of which will express the same dramatic 
content in harmony, or in contrast, one with another. 
Sound images that are recorded during the taking of the 
visual images will be an integral part of the composed 
musical score, if they have any significance as regards the 
visual image. Both sound and visual images build up the 
same effect. They are united in their appeal. 

The wealth and richness of sound material available for 
dramatic emphasis is almost unlimited. The sounds of the 
world are to be combined with the sights of the world. 
Already Pudovkin has spoken of the whisper of a man, the 
cry of a child, the roar of an explosion. ' It will be possible 
to combine the fury of a man with the roar of a lion.' There 
is the sigh of a multitude to be heard in contrast to the 
dropping of a pin. The sound of the wind and the sound 
of the sea. The sound of rain, leaves, animals, and birds; 
of trains, cars, machines, and ships. These are to be woven 
into a unity in counter-point with their visual images, Dut 
never in direct conjunction with them. Even as the 
camera's power of distortion is used for dramatic emphasis, 
so will the distortion of sound be used. In the same way 
as an effect is built out of pieces of film by the act of 
montage, so will little portions of sound be built up into 
new and strange noises. The process of short cutting in 
visual images will be paralleled in the mixing of sounds. 
Even as visual images mix and dissolve one into another 
so will sound images mix and dissolve, according to the 
nature of the scene and as indicated by the scenario 
montage. Similarly, in the same manner that overlapping 
of movement is used in editing for strengthening and 
deepening effect, so will sound images be overlapped with 

410 



METHODS OF EXPRESSION 

both melodic and discordant effect, as the mood of the 
dramatic content of the scene demands. 

Contrast of sound will be used in the form of the rela- 
tionship of sound volumes. It will not be possible, except 
in rare cases, to cut direct from one sound to another as 
with the visual image, unless there is a background of 
music to soften the contrast. For instance, it will be 
possible to cut from the loud, angry sounds of a turbulent 
crowd to the sound of the crowd when hushed, and to 
strengthen that contrast not by the silence of the crowd, 
but by the shuffling of one man's foot. 

In order that the powers of editing and cutting may be 
used with absolute freedom, the scenario-organisation must 
be arranged so that the sound images may be synchronised, 
if desired, after the taking of the incident. The sound 
images are to be fitted to the visual images in the final act 
of assembling. Both are controlled by the one aim. This 
indicates that it is essential for the sound images to be 
included with the visual images in the preconceived 
shooting-script. 

Only in this way can synchronised sound images be 
wedded to the continuity of visual images on the screen in 
such a manner that both go to build a film as a unity with a 
singleness of mind and a centralisation of purpose. Thus 
will it be possible to construct a film as a plastic composition, 
capable of achieving unprecedented emotional effect on any 
given audience. By cine-organisation of the three forms of 
montage; by use of the true resources of the cinema which 
have arisen out of its nature; by preconception of the 
result and the power of being able to achieve that desired 
result by means of the film's capabilities of dramatic 
expression ; by these means will a film be made. 



In retrospect, it has taken roughly twenty-five years 
(1900-25) to discover the fundamental basis of film 
creation in the work of Kuleshov and the Soviet directors. 
During this time, the film has developed attributes and 

411 



THE THEORETICAL 

properties peculiar to itself; it has become completely 
alienated from the hampering traditions of the theatre; 
and it has succeeded in establishing itself as an independent 
form of expression utterly representative of the spirit of 
the twentieth century. From 1925, there have been realised 
practical examples based on the .filmic theories of Kule- 
shov and his fellow-workers, resulting in the most 
momentous achievements of the cinema. And now in 1930, 
the film has returned to its original ideas; has become in 
still closer relation to theatre; and aims once more at 
realism and photographic representation. The advent of 
the sound and dialogue film marks the opening of the 
second cycle in the history of the cinema. Discoveries that 
have taken twenty-five years to evolve are being thrown 
aside in the interests of showmanship and commercialism; 
magnificently the film neglects its proper qualities and 
returns to the confines of the theatre. But just as in the 
primitive days the film developed despite the misconception 
of producers and directors, so am I confident that the 
offending dialogue will pass as soon as its showmanship 
possibilities become exhausted, and the way will be left 
open for the great sound and visual cinema of the future. 



412 



PART THREE 
THE FILM SINCE THEN 



by 

Richard Griffith 



INTRODUCTION 

When The Film Till Now was being* written in 1929, the 
motion picture was in crisis. In the short space of a year 
the silent film had disappeared, to be replaced in the 
theatres and in the hearts of most audiences by films 
featuring synchronised dialogue and music. It is hard to 
realise to-day the emotional impact of this revolution. Few 
people can remember more than dimly what it was like to 
see silent films at the time of their production 1 and majority 
opinion, now as then, assumes that since the invention of 
the talkies represented mechanical progress it automatically 
meant aesthetic improvement. But to the film enthusiasts 
who were the first passionate readers of this book, the 
sound upheaval came as very death. 

Whatever improvements it might have developed if it 
had survived a few years longer, the silent film at its best 
had by 1928 attained singular completeness as a human 
experience. To walk into a darkened theatre, to focus upon 
a bright rectangle of moving light, to listen somewhat below 
the level of consciousness to music which was no longer 
good or bad in itself but merely in relation to what was 
on the screen, and above all to watch, in a kind of charmed, 
hypnotic trance a pattern of images which appeared and 
disappeared as capriciously as those pictures which involun- 
tarily present themselves to the mind as it is dropping off to 
sleep — but which, also like those of the mind, gradually 
mount to a meaning of their own — this was an experience 
complete and unique, radically unlike that provided by the 
older arts or by the other new media of mass communica- 
tion. It bade fair to become the characteristic art-experience 
of our time. 

This new experience had by the end of the silent film 
era acquired an intense and devoted cult of intellectual 

2 And not, as is now possible, in revivals charged as they inevitably 
are with personal reminiscence and nostalgia. 

415 



THE FILM SINCE THEN 

adherents, bent on analysing and rationalising a pleasure 
which for the movie millions largely operated on the level 
of the subconscious. Vachel Lindsay in America, Guillaume 
Appollinaire in France, were pioneers in discovering 
aesthetic virtues in the primitive films of the early century, 
and after the first World War the intellectual cult of the 
cinema sprang up simultaneously in many countries. The 
aspirations of its adherents took many forms. In Germany 
and America, many of them took the direct route of finding 
what movie jobs they could, gradually learning their trade 
in the industries of their countries. Some, in France, 
insisted on making films as they felt they should be made ; 
the avant-garde of the twenties. Others speedily dis- 
covered that film-making is the most expensive form of 
creation, and their activities were mostly confined to 
theoretical discussion and analysis of the isolated examples 
of film art which sporadically issued from the commercial 
studios. 

These were the cineastes. Like all enthusiasts, they 
gradually sought each other out, formed societies, engaged 
in international correspondence, and sought to influence 
majority opinion on behalf of their standards and ideals. 
Their leadership came mainly from Britain which, though 
it had produced few films and no good ones, seems to have 
been a fertile field for the ideal of cinema perfectionism. It 
crystallised partly around an institution, the London Film 
Society, 1 and partly around a highbrow magazine, Close 
Up. 2 * The Film Society ', as it was known throughout the 
world, made it possible for the cineastes in Britain to see 
esoteric films which found no commercial market, or foreign 
films of a political tinge which British censorship found 
repugnant. In its choice of programmes it sought to con- 
found the philistines by purifying the film of all borrowed 
elements and isolating what was unique to the new medium. 

1 Formed in 1925 and held its first performance on 25 October at 
the New Gallery Kinema, London. Many films imported into Britain 
by the Society were later given a commercial release. The last and 
108th performance of the Society was given on 23 April, 1939. 

2 First published, July, 1927; last published, September, 1933. 

416 



INTRODUCTION 

Close Up was equally purist, but was concerned with the 
film in society as well as the film per se. As edited by 
Kenneth Macpherson and Winifred Bryher from Switzer- 
land it represented the views of advanced young people 
throughout the world who were preoccupied with the possi- 
bilities of the machine-age as they conceived it. In this 
mutely vivid art, comprehensible in every language and to 
nearly every culture, even very primitive ones, the cinema 
enthusiasts believed they had found a form which could not 
only meet the highest aesthetic standards, but also, in its 
intimate appeal to all peoples, could become a universal 
language. 

In retrospect, the cineastes seem to have wanted at one 
and the same time to sophisticate the film and to exploit its 
mass-appeal. Yet there was much evidence at hand to 
support their hopes. Films of simple beauty and elemental 
emotion had enchanted the highbrows ; films of considerable 
intellectual complexity had been comprehended by the 
masses and were not without influence on the course of 
public affairs. The more advanced cineastes believed that 
the barriers to popular understanding of works of art were 
mostly verbal, that this art which dealt entirely in imagery, 
whose form corresponded so strikingly to the processes of 
the mind itself, could carry almost any intellectual burden. 
After the success of the great Russian films, ideologically 
complex but reaching illiterate peasants with enormous 
force and lucidity, it seemed that they must be right. 

The advent of sound brought all these hopes and specu- 
lations to a dead stop. The film, which had ranged so far 
and spoken so eloquently to people everywhere, was sud- 
denly battened down inside the sound stages and behind the 
language barrier. What Lillian Gish had called * a species 
of emotional and . . . informational Esperanto V had 
given place to a new Babel. Worse, the very basis of film 
art had been destroyed. Substituted for it was the derived 
art of the stage. The first sound films were quite literally 

1 Lillian Gish, A Universal Language, Encyclopaedia Britannica, 
1929 ed. 

417 27 



THE FILM SINCE THEN 

photographed theatre. And, as none other than Thomas 
Mann had pointed out, one of the most important dis- 
coveries that had been made about the film was that, in 
spite of superficial resemblances, it had less in common with 
the drama than with most of the other traditional arts. 
With affinities to the ballet and to formal music, films of 
the silent days most closely approached that kind of poetry 
which is epic in style and narrative in form. As Mann 
says, ' They are living shadows. They speak not, they are 
not, they merely zvere — and were precisely as you see them. 
And that is narrative.' The tense of the drama is always 
present. 1 Films, even at their most intimate and intensely 
experienced, have a quality of retrospect. Moreover, the 
techniques of the two media, however similar-seeming, are 
fundamentally incompatible because one is properly domi- 
nated by the ear, the other by the eye. Shaw's statement 
about stage acting, ' Gesture falls on the beat of the line \ 
summed up two thousand years of theatrical experience. 
When stage plays were first made into sound films, his 
dictum was applied to all the movements of the actors. 
Accordingly, all the editing and camera devices which com- 
prise the instrumentality of the film were accommodated 
to the sense and rhythm of each line of dialogue. The 
resulting films were without form of their own, neither did 
they reproduce the feeling of the theatre. They seemed 
more like the mummies of plays, mounted for exhibition in 
a museum. 

That this form of taxidermy should permanently be 
substituted for the art of the silent film was to the cineastes 
unthinkable. They decided that this was merely a phase 
which would pass as soon as sound had exhaused its 
novelty, and blamed ' Hollvwood ' for exploiting this per- 
version of the medium. 2 When at last it was clear that the 
silent film had been permanently replaced, the bewilderment 

1 Except where the theatre has been influenced by the film, e.g. 
On Trial, Lady in the Dark, etc. 

2 Ignoring the fact that the motion picture industry itself had 
accepted sound only with the greatest reluctance. 

418 



INTRODUCTION 

and consternation of the cineastes was complete. Some 
bade farewell to the screen, considering the art of the film 
' proper ' to belong to history, like the secret of manu- 
facturing Etruscan ware. Others sought to accommodate 
themselves in some way to sound without compromising 
their original stand on first principles. The conclusions 
arrived at by the majority are well represented in the 
closing pages of Part Two of The Film Till Now. 

As early as 1928, Eisenstein and Pudovkin had actually 
provided a way out. Like a few other eminent directors 
revered of the intellectuals (Lubitsch, for example), they 
hailed the invention of sound at the very time that their 
disciples were bewailing it. In a manifesto published 
throughout the English-speaking world as well as in 
Russia, the deans of Soviet cinematography made clear 
that they considered sound an important and exciting exten- 
sion of the medium, and that they regarded the early 
photographed plays as transient misuse of the new dimen- 
sion. In view of the exhilarating possibilities their mani- 
festo opened up and of the fact that that important film 
Hallelujah! (1929), by King Vidor, had in the first year 
of the talkies miraculously accommodated dialogue to the 
classic structure of the silent film. 1 it may seem difficult to 
understand now why The Film Till Now ends on so uncer- 
tain and negative a note. The pages (403-12) on the future 
of the audio-visual cinema have a perfunctory air; their 
confident prognostications barely conceal a sense of loss, a 
nostalgia for that which had been and never would be again. 
For Paul Rotha, and the devoted film disciples whose 
spokesman he often was, were beginning to perceive that 
something else had come to an end besides the silent film. 

Like the French film La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc (1928) 
which, as Iris Barry points out, both characterised and 
marked the close of silent film experiments in Europe, The 



1 Rotha's indifferent estimate of Hallelujah! may derive from the 
fact that he was comparing it with the great silent films which 
immediately preceded it. When seen to-day in relation to current films, 
it seems a matchless achievement, cf. pp. 147, 192, 193. 

419 



THE FILM SINCE THEN 

Film Till Now epitomised and signalled the end of the first 
era of thinking about the motion picture. The cineastes of 
the twenties had regarded the art of the film in the manner 
of classical criticism. They tried to analyse each great film 
as though it were entirely the product of individuals con- 
structing their works on the basis of fundamental principles. 
Each work was judged for the most part on its conformity 
to those principles, and was treated as if it existed in a 
socio-economic vacuum without allegiance to anything but 
aesthetics. The audience for these films was regarded as a 
passive factor, accepting or rejecting the works put before 
it according to its degree of taste and education. The 
enormous popularity of the cinema was thought to depend 
not upon content or style, but purely upon the intrinsic 
powers of the medium itself; it was believed that given 
full use of those powers any theme, however esoteric, could 
be made exciting to the mass public. 1 The extent to which 
this argument from the powers of the medium is true is 
now obvious to any one who has thoughtfully seen a motion 
picture. What is equally true but not obvious to the 
intellectuals then (and to many of them not even now) is 
that the film's popularity derives principally from the fact 
that it is in a profound sense a popular creation. Not only 
commercial trivia but also great masterpieces are created 
of, by and for ' the people ' in much the same sense that 
medieval ballads were a creation of * the people \ 2 This is 
as true of Eisenstein and Pudovkin as of Chaplin and 
Disney. Had it been otherwise, these great film creators 
might never have come into their greatness. They grew 
and prospered because they had the common touch. Other 
minds and other talents, equally keen in their instinct for 
the medium, fell out of the race or descended to hackwork 

1 In his second book Celluloid, which holds to the principles of The 
Film Till Now, Rotha continues this theme : he seems to urge a sort 
of conspiracy among intellectuals to exploit the physical reflexes which 
a certain kind of montage can produce to impose upon the public themes 
and attitudes remote from their values. 

2 Vide, Otis Ferguson, Life Goes to The Movies, Films, Vol. 1, 
No. 2, 1940. 

420 



INTRODUCTION 

because they could not or would not accommodate them- 
selves to the time-spirit, or because they insisted upon 
pursuing themes remote from the sympathies, or alien to 
the experiences, of average audiences. This, as film history 
continues to demonstrate, is the basic condition of survival. 
An artist may use what virtuoso methods he likes in his 
films so long as his subjects are emotionally important to 
the majority; if they are not, he cannot work at all. 

It is clear in retrospect that when the people embraced 
this new art they were bound to make it their own, and that 
therefore the most functional intellectual approach to 
cinema must be that of research into the economic, political, 
and cultural patterns which it was bound to reflect. But it 
is understandable that the cineastes should have adopted the 
outlook with which they came to be associated. The motion 
picture was invented only fifty years ago; its development 
from a means of recording to a method of narration took 
place in less than half that time (1903-1922). The whole 
silent era was therefore essentially an experimental era. It 
seemed then that films were the work of individual artists 
because it was a pantheon of talented individuals who were 
discovering and perfecting the resources of the medium. 
And those creators were given a degree of freedom incon- 
ceivable to-day; M-G-M could permit Stroheim to make 
Greed, Goldwyn to distribute Caligari, Paramount to 
finance Flaherty, because the capacities of the film were still 
being explored. No one was yet certain what the public 
would accept. But by the latter half of the twenties the 
medium was highly developed and, what is even more 
important, the most profitable box-office formulas had be- 
come manifest. It had become practicable to standardise 
film production in anticipation of mass-standardised taste. 
Producers were no longer interested in experimenting with 
what they could now regard as a predictable product. This 
fact, and the influence of the world economic depression on 
public taste, were of final importance in determining the 
course of the medium. It was primarily they, and not 
sound, which gave its character to the contemporary film. 

421 



THE FILM SINCE THEN 

For as long as they could, however, the cineastes clung to 
their belief that it was the unseemly intrusion of the 
dialogue film into the aesthetic paradise of the silent experi- 
mental films which had brought film art, as they understood 
it, to a standstill. Bryher and Macpherson washed their 
hands of the cinema and dismantled Close Up in 1933, 
while the Film Society and its increasing imitators had a 
thin time finding enough new material of the right degree 
of purity to present to their members. Others among the 
film aesthetes re-thought the whole problem of mass- 
communications and came to a new channel for their 
energies. They discovered that while the ' art ' film might be 
commercially impossible when served up as entertainment, 
its methods might powerfully serve the ends of propaganda. 
In radical contrast to their previous pursuit of the ' pure ' 
film as an end in itself, they now began to speak of ' films 
which serve a purpose beyond themselves.' 

Serving a purpose beyond just film-making has been the 
main intellectual approach to the cinema ever since. In 
America, the energies of serious men have been principally 
devoted to the attempt to turn the Hollywood cameras on to 
the problems of modern existence. In Britain, a different 
course was undertaken. Under the guidance of John 
Grierson, a devoted group of educators, journalists, scien- 
tists — and former film aesthetes (among them Rotha) — 
created what has come to be known throughout the world 
as ' the British documentary film movement \ How docu- 
mentary tried to make itself economically independent of 
the cinemas, how it absorbed the technical methods of all 
kinds of film-making in all countries, how it identified itself 
with the aims of government and industry and all those 
agencies which do the world's work, how it became an 
instrument and a force which was later to be used as a 
major weapon of war : all this is the story of Rotha's third 
book, Documentary Film (1936). 1 The fact that one of the 
principal exponents of film aesthetics in 1929 should have 

1 See also The Arts Enquiry Report on The Factual Film (Oxford 
University Press, 1947). 

422 



INTRODUCTION 

developed into a leading spokesman for the purposive use 
of film for social ends is conclusive testimony to the change 
that came over serious thinking about the role of the 
motion picture in contemporary life. 

Because Rotha had written The Film Till Now, his 
entrance into the documentary film field in 1930 signalled 
the shape of things to come for many a group of film en- 
thusiasts across the world way outside the United Kingdom. 
Perhaps the mainspring of his initial interest in the docu- 
mentary method was the freedom of aesthetic experiment 
it allowed; but with each film he made from Contact 
(1932) onwards, he moved closer to the social implications 
of his subjects. Documentary Film first published in 1936 
was a long, long way from The Film Till Now of 1930 in 
theory and philosophic base but by the time it was published 
Rotha had already realised its principles in action. His 
specific relation to Grierson and the documentary group is 
well-known in Britain. What is probably not so well- 
known is the extent of Rotha's personal influence by precept 
and example throughout the world. Quite precisely, he 
performed the strategic task of bringing into the inter- 
national documentary camp the very considerable number 
of persons — some of them in key positions in relation to 
documentary's interests — who were in the first instance 
concerned with the film for its own sake, and who could 
only be led to a consideration of its social role by the 
exhortation and example of a film-maker and film-historian 
who, they knew, shared their own basic love for the 
medium. This, it should be realised, was one of the jobs 
to be done; I hope it is as recognised in Britain as it is over- 
seas how well it was done. 

Rotha's becoming a producer in 1935 was received with 
mixed feelings by the audience he had created as a director. 
The necessity in the interests of the whole documentary 
field for him to assume this responsibility was felt, but it 
was also felt that something had been lost. Cover to Cover 
(1936), Today We Live (1937) and New Worlds for Old 
(1938) — especially the latter — revealed flashes of the old 

423 



THE FILM SINCE THEN 

drive to explore new territory, but it was a drive now dif- 
fused and partially expressed through others. The appear- 
ance some years later of World of Plenty (1943) confirmed 
the conviction of more than one observer that it is 
doubtful strategy to exploit talent in a supervisory capacity 
while actual creation is given over to routinists. It might 
perhaps, be the other way round ? Not only was World of 
Plenty sl highly personal film; it was also the intimate 
product of the impact of two minds upon each other during 
the course of a long friendship. Between them, the late 
Eric Knight and Rotha developed a new form in this 
pioneering film. It reflected all the things they held in 
common; learned knowledge of the history of the medium, 
deep and instinctive feeling for its capacities and, where 
subject was concerned, a high anger against the folly and 
waste of heedless exploitation. It was the anger which 
gave a dimension to World of Plenty beyond that of Capra's 
Why We Fight series. It appealed to the people in 
their own interest at long last, not in the interest of the 
Nation or the Flag, not even in the interest of Education 
and Progress. It spoke directly to the people, over the 
heads of governments and agencies and institutions and 
causes, even the best, even the most disinterested, which was 
perhaps why the latter were shy of it. In doing so, it 
brought the people into the argument and almost for the 
first time in cinema made them their own advocates. 

Most films hardly even try any more to speak to the 
audience in a voice it can believe. World of Plenty did 
it. Rotha' s last film The World is Rich (1947) did more. 
It demonstrated that, as the semanticists would say, a 
question properly put dictates its own answer. The novelty, 
socially speaking, is that the audience is challenged to test 
the truth of what it sees and hears rather than be crushed 
by the authority of a Jovian commentator and script- 
writer. The measure of these Rotha films is not to be 
found in the striking distribution and profound effect which 
they have achieved throughout the world, nor in the 
audience allegiance they command. In a way that is still 

424 



IN TRODUCTION 

not altogether clear, they have flung down the gauntlet to 
all other lines of documentary development. They relegate 
lyricism and impressionism and mere factual statement to a 
very minor role. They make The March of Time think- 
film seem hoarily distant. They induce the reflection that 
while the Why We Fight technique created emotional unity 
around known values, it suggested and could suggest no 
way of solving the problems which threatened those values 
— except, perhaps, to fight some more. They raise the 
question : is it worth while for documentary, in a world 
crisis which has all the appearance of finality, to treat of 
subjects or to raise issues which cannot be brought to their 
outcome by the immediate and direct pressure of public 
opinion? 



This addendum to The Film Till Now will concern itself 
principally with the relationship between a film and its 
world audience, and what was happening to that audience 
in the past eighteen years. The original edition of this 
book, written at the end of the experimental period, logically 
devoted itself to the developing grammar of the film. Now 
that the medium itself has matured, it is the uses to which 
this powerful instrument is put that require analysis. 

The question may occur to some : how is it that, all 
through a period which has been focussed on ends rather 
than on means, The Film Till Now has survived as a classic 
film history? I am anxious to answer out of my own ex- 
perience. ' Nowadays ', a prominent educator has said, 
' thousands of young people seem to feel that the movies 
are their destiny/ And they search in their thousands for 
some way of uniting their destiny with that of the movies. 
In the babyhood and youth of the movies it was inevitable 
that Hollywood should seem the only locale, and bigness the 
only goal, of their efforts. But ever since 1930 this book 
has been lying in wait for them. They have happened 
upon it in their schools and colleges ; it has loomed out at 
them from the shelves of small-town libraries; and it has 

425 



THE FILM SINCE THEN 

kept alive their enthusiasms in the long discouragement of 
waiting for the chance to practise its precepts. Many, among 
whom I am happy to number myself, found that even after 
they had arrived at some form of motion picture activity, 
what The Film Till Now had to say about the medium and 
its principles and possibilities remained at the backs of their 
minds as the goal to work toward. I do not think it possible 
to exaggerate the importance of the consciousness of such a 
goal in its effect upon actual movie work from day to day. 
The endless stream of poverty-stricken or bankrupt films 
which flows past us from week to week has its source in 
large part in the fact that their makers literally do not know 
that films ever have been (and therefore ever could be) 
made in any other way. On the other hand, an increasing 
number of craftsmen — Huston, Dmytryk, Kanin, Rossellini, 
to name but a few — show a growing awareness of how 
their own work can be enriched through a knowledge of 
films of the past and what is to be learnt from them. They 
know that Stroheim's cutting principle did not die with 
Greed but is there for the taking ; that the structure of the 
Odessa steps sequence in Potemkin can be accommodated to 
other themes and locales — and that only by this process of 
absorption and refashioning of first principles and historic 
examples can the medium continue to grow. 

Beyond this teaching role, The Film Till Now has 
another importance. It is the work of a man infatuated 
with his subject. No one could read it, then or now, with- 
out being infected with some of its strict regard for the 
essence of the medium itself. And that is basic. The 
camera is a hard taskmaster. For whether it be in the 
cinema of ideas, of information, or of amusement no film 
can reach an audience where it lives unless it is first of all 
a film. All hail, then, to the cineastes, and to their one-time 
spokesman who now practises what he then preached in a 
world greatly changed ! Whatever their mistakes about 
dialogue, however baseless some of their optimism and 
some of their pessimism, they loved the thing they sought 
to protect. We need a matching love to-day. ' For the fire 

426 



INTRODUCTION 

cannot kindle nor the flame leap up, until there has been 
long intercourse with the thing in itself, and it has been 
lived with.' 

Richard Griffith 
New York 
June, 1948 



427 



I 

THE AMERICAN FILM: 1929-48 

(I) Subjects and Themes 

If the talking film was repugnant to the aesthetes, it was 
no less so, at first, to the Motion Picture Industry. Syn- 
chronised sound and dialogue had been a theoretical possi- 
bility since the invention of the movies. All that was lacking 
was an adequate device for amplification of the projected 
sound. This was supplied by the development of the 
telephone repeater in 1914. Research could have solved the 
final difficulty of electrical recording in a very short time 
and the sound engineers early turned to the obvious source 
of finance to support the research, the Industry itself. But 
the corporation executives were not interested. Secure in the 
familiar pattern of movie-making which they had created 
and with which they felt at home, they saw no reason to 
disturb the profitable routine of silent film production. A 
few fanatic pioneers, like Lee De Forest, continued to 
experiment chiefly with the support of the telephone and 
phonograph interests ; but they might have gone on fiddling 
on the fringes for years had not desperation caused one of 
the major Hollywood studios to break ranks and sponsor 
the sound film. 

In 1924-25, Warner Brothers were facing bankruptcy. 
Lacking access to the theatre-chains controlled by their 
larger competitors, they could not obtain adequate distribu- 
tion for their often excellent films. Within the existing 
industry set-up, there was no way out for them ; they had 
to try something new. With what remained of their 
capital they equipped a sound studio and threw themselves 
into the gamble of making a synchronised film. The first 
result was John Barrymore's Don Juan, in which recorded 
music took the place of that customarily furnished by an 

428 



THE AMERICAN FILM 

orchestra in the theatre pit. Everybody agreed that this 
was a step forward in the presentation of movies but it did 
not seem a revolutionary one. Nor did the flat, middle- 
Western voice of Will H. Hays, slightly ' out of sync.' 
with his image on the screen, encourage anyone to believe 
that this form of speech-film had the bright future he 
predicted for it. But Warner's were committed to their 
gamble ; they had no choice but to push on. They persuaded 
Al Jolson to accept shares in their nearly bankrupt company 
in lieu of salary for appearing in a screen version of a 
recent stage hit, The Jazz Singer. This film, finished at the 
end of 1926, was indifferently acted and directed, its story 
banal and heavily sentimental. Silent, or even with a 
synchronised musical score, it would have passed unnoticed 
in the stream of mediocre pictures. But at its end the voice 
of Jolson spoke to Eugenie Besserer : ' Hey, Mom, listen to 
this.' Then he sang two songs. To hear these two songs 
and the five words that introduced them, New York and 
then the world queued up for months. 

Hollywood was still unimpressed. Only two or three 
theatres in the country were equipped to show sound films, 
and it seemed a waste of ' the stockholders' money ' to invest 
in expensive machinery to produce films whose novelty value 
was sure to be brief. But the novelty persisted. Through 
the last sunny years of the twenties when everybody was 
making money, at least on paper, the Industry was suffering 
from a mild slump. Movies were bigger, slicker, and 
showier than ever, but their profits were disconcertingly 
small in proportion to the huge amounts invested in them. 
Meanwhile, the renegade Warner's were making amazing 
sums from their sound pictures which, although they could 
only be shown in a few theatres, never seemed to stop 
running there. By the beginning of 1928, the executives 
of the other companies got around to deciding that perhaps 
they had better investigate sound. It could do no harm, 
and maybe a few of these novelty * talkers ' might bolster 
the dwindling income from the * regular ' product. 

The results of their investigations were startling. They 

429 



THE FILM SINCE THEN 

learned that any sound film, no matter how bad, could fill 
any theatre, however ratty while across the street their 
most super silent picture played to empty seats in the most 
sumptuous of motion picture cathedrals. They learned that 
countless exhibitors were installing sound equipment, and 
that the Western Electric Company could not keep up with 
existing orders much less serve the vast theatre chains; 
that Warner's had a similar lead in building sound-stages 
for production; that it was not only possible but highly 
probable that their tardiness in adopting sound could 
destroy their dominant position both in production and in 
exhibition; and that it might already be too late. 

The panic that followed, well described in William de 
Mille's Hollyvuood Saga, was immediate. Stars, directors, 
writers, producers, even the studios themselves, were locked 
in a struggle for survival, the single test being whether or 
not they could adapt themselves to sound. Many could not 
on the simple score of illiteracy. Many others lost their 
battle because the particular gifts which had made them 
acceptable in silent pictures seemingly had no place in the 
talkies. The players suffered most. Early sound recording 
was faulty in the extreme, and voices either recorded 
dissonantly, or revealed traits of character strikingly at 
variance with the screen personality built up by publicity 
and type-casting during the silent days. Worst handicap 
of all was the fact that no one quite knew to what he was 
required to adapt himself — the sound film as a method of 
story-telling was an unknown quantity. Most producers 
assumed that films from now on would be replicas of stage 
productions, and resorted to wholesale importation of 
Broadway playwrights, stage managers and actors, mean- 
while relegating the old stars and directors to limbo along 
with all the principles of film construction which had been 
slowly developed through the silent years. 

Like the producers, the Broadwayites in their triumph 
assumed that all they had to do was to transfer the New 
York stage bodily to Hollywood and photograph it. In 
the late twenties that meant drawing-room comedy, then 

430 



THE AMERICAN FILM 

the fashion. But the fashion was confined to New York. 
To rural movie audiences, these recorded plays came as a 
shock and a puzzle. Years before, the silent film had 
accustomed moviegoers to Lady Diana Delatour, Lord 
Kildare and the stately homes of England. Through literal 
transcription of Barrie, Lonsdale and Maugham, the screen 
now revived these characters but this time asked the movie- 
goer to take them seriously. In the photographed play of 
1930, Lady Diana was evidently intended to be a real 
person. She was usually played, for one thing, by Ruth 
Chatterton, who didn't look like Pola or Gloria in the least, 
and whose manner was human not divine. But while the 
moviegoers had accepted Lady Diana when she was pre- 
sented in terms of sweet Elinor Glyn, her real self bored 
and nonplussed them. Miss Chatterton seemed to them 
much too sensible a woman to waste her time in the delicate 
Lonsdale effort to decide whether or not she really loved 
her husband. In greater America in the year 1930, a 
woman might dislike her husband or she might love him, 
but she was seldom in doubt about it. The fact that Lady 
Diana's indecision was expressed through dialogue made 
her more than ever irritating to the majority, to whom it 
seemed that ' tea-cup drama ' got nowhere. It left its 
characters where it found them, and the interim of polite 
badinage had no more connection with fundamental emo- 
tions than a game of pingpong. 

This attempt to use the subjects and methods of another 
art failed because the life represented in the photographed 
play, actual though it might be, was outside the experience 
of American audiences and alien to their values. Something 
more than a year of this * tin-pot substitute for theatre ' 
made clear that, contrary to the expectations of both 
aesthetes and businessmen, sound was to make no essential 
change in the American film as a popular entertainment 
because the values and outlook of the audience remained 
fundamentally the same. They still wanted youth, beauty 
and the common touch in their players, action in their nar- 
rative, and a familiar conscientiousness about the underlying 

431 



THE FILM SINCE THEN 

moral values. Even the ability to recite dialogue, that literal 
shibboleth, turned out to be of secondary importance. Janet 
Gaynor, with the voice of a talking doll, made a triumphant 
talkie debut in a film in which she also sang, and continued 
her successful career for nearly a decade. Many other silent 
favourites also survived the transition. It began to be seen 
that it was not the movie players and directors, but the 
imported talents from Broadway who had to adapt them- 
selves to the sound film in order to survive. Few of them 
did, and of those few, only those intelligent enough to shed 
their proscenium manner for the restrained acting required 
by the intimacy of camera and microphone. 

Meanwhile, the social forces which were really to shape 
the future of the American film were beginning to operate. 
The beginning of the sound era roughly coincided with the 
collapse of the stock market and the onset of the great 
economic depression of the early 1930's. But while the re- 
mainder of the American economy swiftly disintegrated, 
movie box-office grosses continued at an all-time peak. 
Wall Street pricked up its ears; here, apparently, was a 
depression-proof industry. 

The continued popularity of the talkies was perhaps in 
part due to their continuing novelty, as the development of 
sound mechanics brought one new technique after another. 
More fundamentally, it was due to the fact that movies 
offered the cheapest amusement that was available to the 
newly-impoverished millions. But as the depression deve- 
loped, as the economic pinch turned into actual penury 
for at least a fifth of the American nation, even the movies 
were not cheap enough. Box-office grosses dropped 
alarmingly. By cutting production costs, the studios might 
have weathered this storm, which lasted only through a few 
years of the New Deal. But the Industry had long been 
overcapitalised and, in distribution, overexpanded. Seeking 
monopoly, the most powerful major companies had invested 
heavily in theatre-chains which in those lean days turned 
out to be highly overcompetitive. By 1932, every Holly- 
wood studio was in financial difficulties. Paramount and 

432 



UNDERWORLD, directed by Josef von Sternberg. George Bancroft. 
[American, 1927] 



•> 




THE PUBLIC ENEMY, directed by William Wellman. Eddie Woods, 
James Cagney. [American, 193 1 



THE AMERICAN FILM 

Fox went through successive receiverships and reorgani- 
sations. R.K.O., which had failed to make a profit since 
its foundation, changed administrations every year. By 
story- formula, by the star-system, by the control of distri- 
bution outlets, the producers had endeavoured throughout 
the twenties to create a standardised system for the mass 
production and mass consumption of films, more or less in 
indifference to public preferences. After 1930, this was no 
longer possible. Under the depression, the American public 
was undergoing new experiences, forming new attitudes, 
which had to be incorporated into films. The study of the 
1930's was how to make film product approximate to the 
changed social outlook of the audience. 

* 

The way to the future was pointed by the gangster film 
cycle, which succeeded ' tea-cup drama ' late in 1930. Films 
dramatising the life and death of machine-age criminals 
had been familiar since Josef von Sternberg first dealt 
with the notorieties of Chicago in Underworld (1927). 
This sophisticated film, and Lewis Milestone's The Racket 
(1928), exemplified the subjective treatment of crime 
towards which silent technique naturally led directors of 
the period. The coming of sound shifted the emphasis 
from the criminal mind to criminal behaviour, enhancing 
the violent elements of the crime saga. The mere addition 
of recorded sound itself added immensely to the physical 
effect of the gangster film. The terrifying splutter of the 
machine-gun, the screaming of brakes and squealing of 
automobile tyres, were stimulants equal in effect to the 
headlong suspense developed by the introspective silent 
technique. 

More important still, sound brought to the crime films 
those corroborative details which identified the underworld 
as a familiar segment of contemporary American life. The 
gangster talkies were written by newspapermen and play- 
wrights, veteran observers who knew the metropolitan 
world and its cesspools at first hand. Maurine Watkins, 
Bartlett Cormack and Norman Krasna had all written 

433 28 



THE FILM SINCE THEN 

gangster plays before going to Hollywood. John Bright 
and the late Kubec Glasmon had been news-reporters in 
Chicago. To the gangster himself, these knowing writers 
added the racketeering night-club proprietor, the gold- 
digging moll, the ' mouthpiece ', the strong-arm henchman, 
the moronic sycophant. Individual films began to explore 
the colourful details of the half-world and to depict un- 
usual and ingenious criminal methods. Melodrama was the 
staple ingredient of the cycle, but as writers increasingly 
dominated the gangster films of 1930 and 1931 they formed 
a documentary mosaic, a panorama of crime and punish- 
ment in an unstable society. George Hill's The Big House 
(1930) showed prison as a breeding-ground for crime. 
Little Caesar (1930) traced the rise of a snarling hoodlum 
to the position of virtual overlord of a modern city, 
terrorising business and paralysing the police. The Secret 
Six (1931) was equally frank in depicting the vigilante 
methods used to combat organised crime when the law 
failed. The last big gangster films of this cycle made 
explicit the emergent fact that the gangster had become a 
popular hero because only an outlaw could achieve success 
in the economic chaos of depression America. Both Smart 
Money (1931) and Quick Millions (1931) made their heroes 
argue that a man was a fool to go into legitimate business 
when it was obvious that business methods applied to crime 
yielded much bigger returns. 

Most extraordinary of all, The Public Enemy (1931) 
told the now-familiar story of the rise and fall of a 
gangster in terms of his social environment. The leading 
character (James Cagney) moved as though propelled by 
fate, by the inevitable doom of those born to the slums. 
This biography of a criminal dared the little-used and 
generally unsuccessful episodic form in order to detail every 
stage in the formation of the hero's psyche. As a boy, 
the futile mediocrity of his middle-class family is contrasted 
with the excitement of city streets where every saloon and 
poolroom is an invitation to excitement and, incidentally, 
to virile adulthood. A bar-room piano-player teaches 

434 



THE AMERICAN FILM 

adolescent boys dirty songs; in return, they pick pockets 
and he acts as their ' fence \ The petty crooks and ward 
heelers of the neighbourhood approvingly watch their pro- 
gress from minor thievery to the organised robbery of fur 
warehouses and, finally, to the biggest bonanza of all, the 
liquor racket. It is as though they had gone to school and 
after rigorous training passed their examinations to 
general approbation. Their lives as adults are detailed with 
a realism new to the screen. In danger more from rival 
gangsters than from the police, they move uneasily from 
apartment to apartment, their surroundings at once 
luxurious and sordid, their women women and nothing 
more. Towards the end of the film, Cagney indicates his 
boredom with his current mistress by pushing a grapefruit 
in her face. A few minutes later, his befouled corpse is 
delivered to his mother's doorstep as though it were the 
day's supply of meat. 

The intentions of Bright and Glasmon in this film were 
undoubtedly sociological; the reactions of audiences were 
frequently romantic. Young girls longed to have grape- 
fruit pushed in their faces, and the tough, not to say sadistic 
heroes in the persons of Cagney and Clark Gable became the 
beau ideal of men and women alike. The gangster cycle, 
growing more harrowing with each picture, was box-office 
throughout the early years of the talkies. But though 
audiences in general did not recoil from the opened cesspool, 
its stench offended more delicate nostrils. The Daughters 
of the American Revolution, the American Legion, and that 
greater legion of women's clubs and business men's clubs 
which run the machinery of community life in the United 
States, disliked this focussing upon * America's shame '. 
They pointed out, truly enough, that audiences sentimenta- 
lised the gangster and envied his life of unrestrained 
violence and excitement. Useless for the Hays Office to 
reply that the gangster films were grim object lessons 
against crime, and that their moralising was nearly always 
vocal and specific. To small-town civic leaders, the films 
seemed morbid, unpleasant, and somehow unpatriotic. The 

435 



THE FILM SINCE THEN 

major portion of American film revenue comes from small 
towns. Hollywood gave in. In the spring of 1931 the 
gangster film was a staple product; before the beginning 
of the next year it had vanished from the screen. 

Its disappearance marked the first instance of a paradox 
which has plagued the Motion Picture Industry ever since. 
A story ' theme ' becomes popular enough with general 
audiences to warrant a cycle of films to be built round it. 
But the ' theme ' itself is repugnant to the upper middle- 
class who, though they form only a small percentage of 
total motion picture patronage, are organised and articulate. 
Then, although the cycle's box-office warrants its con- 
tinuance, it is abandoned in deference to the pressure 
groups. Yet these attempts to curb or guide public taste 
are seldom wholly successful if they are in opposition to 
the time-spirit. The gangster as stencil disappeared, but 
his influences remained. The crime films had brought the 
habit of a naturalistic approach to the screen. Their best- 
known contribution was a new swiftness of continuity 
which lifted the movies out of the dialogue doldrums of the 
photographed play. In pictures which revolved round the 
events of murder, pursuit and capture, speech became speedy 
and succinct. This brief dialogue blended with the staccato 
rhythm of films based on action to produce vivid impact. 
In 1931 Norbert Lusk said of Smart Money : ' Every word 
has the force of a newspaper headline.' 

Once they learned that speech need not carry the story, 
directors and writers began to use it as an atmospheric 
adjunct. Edward G. Robinson's famous ■ So you can dish 
it out but you can't take it ', was one of the many phrases the 
gangster film brought into general circulation. Screen 
dialogue took on an idiomatic crispness in the mouths of 
Robinson, Cagney, Joan Blondell, Ruth Donnelly, Marjorie 
Rambeau, Chester Morris, Allen Jenkins, and Warren 
Hymer, very able players brought from Broadway. 

The end of the gangster era found the screen equipped 
with a corps of efficient actors whose brilliant thumbnail 
characterisations gave audiences a sense of acquaintance 

436 



THE AMERICAN FILM 

with the background of events ordinarily remote from their 
lives. The cycle had given jobs to writers whose know- 
ledge of the seamy side of American life was drawn from 
experience and was articulate and controlled. Above all, 
it had accustomed audiences to seeing contemporary life 
dealt with from a critical point of view. Except in The 
Public Enemy, the gangster films had avoided tracing the 
social backgrounds of crime. Yet the exhaustiveness of 
their naturalistic detail was in effect a tacit statement that 
the slum, and therefore society, was responsible for uncon- 
trolled twentieth-century crime. It was this unpleasant 
implication, perhaps, more than the danger that the crime 
film itself might breed criminals, that lay at the bottom of 
the boycott of the gangster film by the small-town civic 
clubs. 

But it was too late to turn back the clock. The new 
critical attitude, along with speedy continuity, idiomatic 
dialogue and naturalistic acting remained a characteristic 
of the sound film. It was the essential element in the 
confession tale, the next movie cycle, and one of the most 
symptomatic trends in popular entertainment since literacy 
and the ballot became universal. 



The confession tale is the lineal descendant of those 
servant-girl stories which have been a constant factor in 
American and English popular literature since the days of 
Richardson, and to-day are a genre by themselves in the 
American magazine field {True Story, True Confessions, 
True Romances, True Life, True Love). These crude 
stories were originally intended as wish- fulfilment for shop- 
girls and servant-girls. On the screen, they gained a much 
wider audience acceptance. They were an answer to the 
frustration of the middle-class woman to whom industrial 
civilisation had given a taste for luxury and adventure, 
and who saw no way of achieving either in the economic 
depression of the thirties except by trading on her sex. 
But she wanted the sanction of morality too, and the movie 

437 



THE FILM SINCE THEN 

formula neatly resolved her conflict. Watching Helen 
Twelvetrees in Millie (1931), she learned that you accepted 
money and a penthouse from a man because you ' trusted ' 
him to do right by you. Was it your fault if he turned out 
a cad, and if you were forced into a life of luxurious sin 
through the loss of your * reputation ' ? Miss Twelvetrees 
said No, and proved her point by the tears she shed over 
her vanished purity. But her regret was too lachrymose — 
the game was hardly worth the candle if you had to cry 
that much to win. Constance Bennett's method of achieving 
the same end was far more reassuring. In each of five 
pictures (Common Clay, 1930; Born to Love, 1931; The 
Common Law, 1931 ; Bought, 1931, and The Easiest Way, 
1931), Miss Bennett was seduced by a rich man and left to 
her fate. Far from weeping on the sidewalk, she fought for 
her man so intelligently that she eventually won a wedding 
ring from him. (In all cases he was, of course, physically 
desirable as well as wealthy.) Miss Bennett, articulate, 
shrewd and resourceful was unbelievable as a stenographer 
or an artist's model, but it was because of this very 
superiority to type that hers proved the popular variation 
of the confession formula. 

The original confession tale in fiction paid at least lip 
service to the canons of bourgeois morality, as did silent 
film versions of similar stories. But as the business graph 
slid downward, rationalisations of the heroine's conduct 
grew more perfunctory and more fantastic. In the fall of 
1932, darkest and most reckless hour of the depression, 
three films summed up the cycle in the round. In Faithless, 
Tallulah Bankhead went on the streets to get food and 
medicine for her sick husband. In Call Her Savage, Clara 
Bow went on the streets to get food and medicine for her 
sick baby. In The Blonde Venus, Marlene Dietrich 
became a rich man's mistress to get money to send her 
husband to Vienna to be cured of radium poisoning. When 
he finds out where the money comes from and casts her off, 
she too resorted to street-walking taking her six-year-old 
daughter with her. The attrition of conventional morality 

438 



THE AMERICAN FILM 

implied by these films is well indicated by Norbert Lusk, 
most astute of popular critics, in his review of Faithless : 

' Another girl goes out on the street and, to use the old 
reliable phrase, sinks to the gutter, but what of it? Her 
husband takes her back when he hears about it, and with a 
gentle wisecrack brushes away any twinge of shame that 
may remain, proving again the current movie doctrine that 
it's not what you do that counts, but what you can get 
away with. In this case the young wife hustles to pay her 
husband's doctor's bills. When she confesses, her conduct 
is not only condoned but also wins a compliment from him 
on her nobility of character. What manner of hero are 
they offering us on the screen to-day ? ' 

The hero of the confession tale did not matter, of course. 
He was at best the deus ex machina who arrived at the end 
of the picture to offer love and respectability to the heroine 
worn out by her sexual activities. Only one film, Garbo's 
Susan Lennox (1931) approached an honest treatment of 
the male response to the street-walker heroine. Miss 
Garbo's Helga is separated from her lover and in the usual 
manner loses her reputation before she meets him again. 
But lo, instead of receiving her with open arms, he is tor- 
tured by her lapse, when he can neither forget nor forgive. 
Their eventual reunion is a desperate measure, the last 
resort of a love that can never be satisfied. But Susan 
Lennox was an eddy. The main current flowed steadily in 
the direction of overt glorification of the philosophy of 
women-on-the-make. By the third year of the depression, 
the economic independence of women, so newly won, so 
precariously held, had collapsed almost completely and 
they were thrown back on the immemorial feminine posi- 
tion. In the harsh world of supply and demand, they had 
nothing to sell but sex. 

In the high tradition of popular art, the screen became 
the confessional which gave them absolution. The shop- 
girl heroine herself was an incredible being both in concept 
and as embodied in glamour by Joan Crawford, Norma 
Shearer, and Barbara Stanwyck, but she was linked to the 

439 



THE FILM SINCE THEN 

lives of her audiences by the idiomatic dialogue, the realistic 
minor characters, the setting of contemporary life, which 
sound had established as the background of the confession 
film. And the closer her screen adventures moved toward 
the experiences of her actual prototypes, the more difficult 
it became for her to adhere to the old ideals. She had not 
forsaken them in spirit; she still wanted wealth, virility, 
and respectability. But life under the depression had 
taught her that one might have to be sacrificed if any was 
to be obtained. The increasing frankness of the films 
centring round her was an echo of her cynical despair. At 
first it was only an overtone. But, by the end of 1932, it 
clamoured from every episode of the confession film. 



In 1930, Darryl Zanuck, then the newly-appointed pro- 
duction head at Warner Brothers, had announced that films 
produced by his studio would henceforth be based so far 
as possible on spot news. This policy, inspired by the 
success of the gangster film in dramatising headlines to 
popular taste, produced the topical film, for many years 
Warner's speciality and imitated by the other major studios. 
Ostensibly these pictures * based on news ' were meant to 
do nothing more than capitalise on topics of current 
interest, with perhaps a modicum of moral homily. But 
as the topical pattern emerged, as writers grew bolder and 
players more accurate in their reflection of character, the 
topical film, like the two cycles which preceded it, became 
a mirror of the subterranean discontent with the American 
social structure which slowly rose through the depression 
years. 

Individual films were generally vague and evasive ; they 
attacked the special case and absolved the system as a whole, 
but in effect their statement was direct. Frequently their 
critical tone was veiled by comedy. The Dark Horse 
(1932) rendered the mechanism of American electioneering 
in terms all too familiar to the citizen. The stupid candi- 
date for governor, ' Hicks, The Man from the Sticks ', is a 

440 



APPLAUSE, directed by Rouben Mamoulian. [American, 1929] 




FORTY-SECOND STREET, directed by Lloyd Bacon. Ruby Keeler, Warner Baxter, 
Ginger Rogers. [American, 1933] 



^3^P^ 



I AM A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG, directed by Mervyn Le Roy. 
Paul Muni. [American, 1932] 



f: 




AMERICAN MADNESS, 

[American, 1932] 



directed bv Frank Capra. Walter Huston. 



THE AMERICAN FILM 

tool in the hands of his campaign manager, who has him 
photographed in fishing-togs, newsreeled awarding blue 
ribbons to prize bulls, and made an honorary chief by a 
tribe of Indians. The film was released during the 1932 
campaign for the Presidency, as was a similar satire The 
Phantom President. Both films painted politics as a 
racket, public officials as hypocrites, and voters as venal 
fools to be bought with flattery and government jobs. In 
like serio-comic vein, The Mouthpiece (1932) argued that 
lawyers were to be had for a price and were the bulwark 
of organised crime, while Night Court (1932) chronicled 
the misdemeanours of a grafting judge. News-reporters 
will commit almost any crime for the sake of a story 
according to Scandal Sheet (1931), The Front Page (1931) 
and Five Star Final (1931). Is My Face Red? (1932), 
Okay, America (1932), and Blessed Event (1932) were 
films based on the exploits of Walter Winchell, depicting the 
rise of the newspaper columnist who grows rich by ruining 
reputations — and who is adored by the public. All- 
American (1932) and Rackety Rax (1933) reported the 
professionalism that had invaded football, implying that 
American sport, that cornerstone of our mores, was a 
racket like any other. American Madness (1932) informed 
disappointed speculators that banking was a confidence 
game in which the honest man was left holding the baby. 
Complementing this corrupt picture of the professional and 
business classes, the serious-minded Richard Barthelmess 
starred in three conscientious films which scrutinised the 
plight of the under-privileged, as expressed in such prob- 
lems as share-cropping, Cabin in the Cotton (1932); the 
psychological deterioration caused by unemployment, 
Heroes for Sale (1933); and the exploitation of the 
American Indian, Massacre (1934). 

The majority of topical films were mere snapshots of 
American life. I am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932), 
the apotheosis of the cycle, dealt directly with social abuse, 
but no picture could afford to be thus uncompromising 
unless it limited itself to so narrow a field as prison 

441 



THE FILM SINCE THEN 

brutality. The average film avoided the direct social attack. 
Its exposition of the - disorders of the body politic was 
often brilliantly realistic, but it ended without concluding. 
The spectator was left to decide for himself whether the 
instance of social disintegration he had witnessed was 
typical or isolated. Nevertheless, the topical films suc- 
ceeded in voicing a blanket indictment of depression 
America because their effect was cumulative. It's Tough 
to be Famous, Love is a Racket, Beauty for Sale — what 
wasn't a racket, what couldn't be bought, in the third year 
of the depression? Nothing, answered the topical films, 
which found a sordid story behind every newspaper head- 
line. Their strength as a movie cycle lay in the fact that 
the story was really there, and that audiences knew it. 
' Work and Save ', the ancient maxim of individualism, had 
been succeeded by ' Anything Goes \ Success in business 
and love was still the goal of the American wish, but nowa- 
days you get it any way you can — no questions asked. 
Why not? Everybody's doing it. 

For the coincident first four years of the depression and 
of sound, the American film had approached real life as 
closely as it dared. The technique of sound and the changed 
outlook of the audience had brought American idiom, real 
characters and contemporary situations into the film-story. 
But though the gangster film, the confession tale, and the 
topical film had tried American society and found it 
wanting, their attack was negative. They had no con- 
structive programme. In reality, their critical attitude was 
a hankering for the old days back, when work produced 
wealth, when there was room to breathe and a chance for 
everyone. They were a reflective and unconscious response 
to the despondency of a nation. 



In the delirious air of the first months of the Roosevelt 
administration, the slowly-formed critical attitude of the 
early talkies weakened. The President was beginning to 
work his magic with the minds of the people, and the 

442 



THE AMERICAN FILM 

country turned to him for miracles because it seemed that 
only miracles could save. ' Confidence ' was the watchword 
he spoke against despair, and a sort of febrile confidence 
spread throughout the country. The movies reflected it 
instantly. Hollywood, too, was weary of panic and strife. 
Enthusiastically producers ' co-operated ' with the new 
administration and did their best to restore confidence by 
producing films endorsing the National Recovery Act and 
other New Deal methods of rejuvenating the economy. 
Looking Forward (1933) used the title of a book by the 
President to offer co-ordinated business planning (of a 
rather homespun variety) as an economic panacea. The 
elements in which confidence was supposed to reside were 
significantly portrayed in Stand Up and Cheer (1934), in 
which a Department of Amusement was created to laugh 
the country out of the depression. It is also significant that 
this picture included songs and dances, since the dominant 
cycle of the New Deal ' honeymoon ' period became the 
musical film, an unregarded corpse since it was done to 
death in the early talkies by literal transcriptions of dated 
operettas and musical comedies. 

In the new cycle, Forty-Second Street (1933) and its 
successors discarded the artificial conventions of stage 
musicals and frankly divorced music and plot, introducing 
songs and dances for sheer divertissement. Gradually the 
musical film jettisoned all semblance of realism, and its 
structure increasingly approximated that of the revue. 
These blithe films multiplied. Warner's first monopolised 
the field with their slangy, contemporaneous Gold Diggers 
series, which were so successful that Paramount and 
M-G-M followed suit with annual Broadway Melodies and 
Big Broadcasts. As might be expected, the cycle has 
developed into a permanent genre, filling the place left 
vacant by vaudeville and offering a vehicle for special skills 
and talents much as the silent film had done for athletes 
like Fairbanks. Its highest point so far has been achieved 
in the charming dance-comedies of Fred Astaire and 
Ginger Rogers. 

443 



THE FILM SINCE THEN 

At the time it was resuscitated in the early New Deal 
days, the appeal of the movie-musical lay in its scatter- 
brained indifference to logic, its provision of licit escape, 
and in its linkage with the spirit of ' confidence '. This 
sudden access of fantasy reflected the desperate wish of the 
majority for an easy way out of the economic impasse. 
But the habit of realism was strong upon Hollywood and, 
side by side with the musical film, the confession tale and 
the topical film continued their sordid analysis of changing 
customs. Basically they were little affected by ' confidence ', 
though after the advent of the New Deal they became less 
tragically serious. The Jean Harlow-Clark Gable comedies 
{Red Dust, 1932; Hold Your Man, 1933; China Seas, 
1935) continued the confession and gangster traditions but 
they laughed at amorality as much as they sentimentalised 
it. It was easy in the atmosphere of confidence to deride 
situations hitherto regarded as grave. It was easier, too, 
to regard them frankly, to dismiss the fog of rationalisa- 
tion and sentimentality which so often negated the realism 
of the depression days, to paint with rueful amusement 
folly at full length. 

It was her honesty that brought instantaneous, universal 
success to Mae West. The * heroine ' of She Done Him 
Wrong (1933) and I'm No Angel (1934) made a bid for 
no one's tears. Far from reforming in the last reel after 
the manner of the confession gals, the final fade-out found 
her wealthy, wicked, and beloved. As for her ' reputation ', 
1 It's not the men in my life that worry me ', says Miss West, 
' it's the life in my men.' It was precisely this irreverence 
which brought about the downfall of Mae and her school. 
The middle-classes had borne with Hollywood's implied 
criticism of their institutions during the economic crisis, 
perhaps because they themselves felt critical of a society 
which seemed to be collapsing around them. But the New 
Deal had (mistakenly) given them the hope that the road 
forward was to be the road back, and they made haste to 
repair the breaches in the fagade of the American tradition. 
What was coming out of Hollywood irritated and dismayed 

444 



THE AMERICAN FILM 

them. Here was the realistic, the critical, the by-now 
merrily irreverent movie telling its audiences that romantic 
love was hypocrisy, a biological joke ; that the government 
ordained by the founding fathers was run by hypocrites in 
the interests of big business ; that the * American way ' in 
business itself was a cut- throat competition but little re- 
moved from racketeering. Just as in the case of the gangster 
film three years before, there slowly gathered during 1933 
and 1934 a sentiment in the church, social and business 
organisations to use their power to muzzle and repress the 
screen — or better still, to direct its popular vitality toward 
more sanctioned goals. The result was the Legion of 
Decency. 

The arguments advanced by the Legion in favour of 
screen reform had been heard before — they echo down the 
ages — but the methods of this remarkable polyglot organi- 
sation were uniquely successful. It hatched in the Roman 
Catholic Church, whose possession of the immemorial 
machinery of repression formed its nucleus and base. The 
Legion was created by the Council of Bishops to review 
films and classify them under the headings ' Passed ', 
1 Objectionable in Part ', and ' Condemned \ These findings 
were announced from pulpits. Communicants were urged to 
stay away from films deemed partly objectionable, and were 
told that attendance at those ' condemned ' by the Legion 
would constitute a venial sin. At the same time, the Church 
invited other denominations to join in this campaign, the 
object being to force Hollywood by mass boycott to give 
over its exposures and sensationalisms and make what were 
vaguely described as ' good ' films. Ordinarily, Protestant 
Americans are reluctant to ally themselves with Rome for 
any reason, but the respectable so urgently felt the need for 
screen reform that the holy alliance was consummated. In 
the great cities, especially those with a large Catholic popu- 
lation, the widely-publicised campaign actually caused a 
small drop in theatre attendance. But not much, and not 
for long. 

The campaign was never felt disastrously at the box- 

445 



THE FILM SINCE THEN 

office because the irreverence of the film towards established 
morality had sprung straight from an attitude of mind 
typical of the movie's audiences. The Legion's ban actually 
acted as a shot in the arm to many a film which might 
otherwise never have attained any publicity at all. Never- 
theless, the pressure from civic leaders was so strong that 
Hollywood felt it prudent to bow. A ' Production Code ' 
had been compiled by the Hays Organisation as early as 
1927 from the rulings of the six State censor boards, but 
had chiefly been more honoured in the breach than in the 
observance. Now it was revivified and rewritten, reputedly 
with the aid of the Catholic hierarchy, and the studios 
agreed to be guided by it. A branch of the Hays Office, 
headed by the prominent Catholic layman, Joseph I. Breen, 
was established in Hollywood to pass judgement upon all 
scripts; none rejected by Breen could be produced until it 
was changed to meet the requirements of the Code. These 
were significant. Designed primarily to geld the sexual con- 
tent of films, they also forbade criticism or humour aimed at 
the cloth, the bench, the armed services or * the accepted 
canons of American morality \ The Code has strait jacketed 
Hollywood ever since. Resourceful writers and producers 
have wriggled out of it from time to time, but for the most 
part it has not been seriously challenged by any major 
studio. So, for the second time in the sound era, an 
articulate and energetic pressure group succeeded in 
imposing on the film an uneasy cast of respectability. 1 



Searching about for new subject matter to accord with 
Decency, Hollywood now beat a rapid retreat from the 
contemporaneousness which had been its stock-in-trade 
since sound. The end of 1934 brought a sudden revival 
of interest in history and legend, and a ransacking of the 
literary archives for simple tales of the wholesome virtues. 

1 Vide, The Freedom of the Movies, Ruth Inglis (University of 
Chicago Press, 1947). 

446 



THE AMERICAN FILM 

American history and the legends clustered about it had 
already received treatment in the early sound film, but such 
a serious biography as D. W. Griffith's Abraham Lincoln 

(1930) exerted little influence, and Alexander Hamilton 

(1931) was simply George Arliss interfering with the 
course of history. Films with a more valid, because more 
instinctive, claim to popularity were Billy the Kid (1930) 
and Moby Dick (1930), legends dear to the American heart 
because they portrayed the old, free days when opportunity 
was as boundless as the unfenced prairie, when danger was 
the tangible menace of physical combat instead of the fear 
of losing a job — above all when behaviour was neither 
restrained by law nor inhibited by the binding force of 
convention. These occasional pictures, like the perennial 
Western, succeeded because they opened an avenue of 
escape toward less trammelled times. Edna Ferber's and 
Wesley Ruggles' Cimarron (1931) was at once the 
apotheosis of all the qualities that made the Western 
popular and a shrewd study of changing cultural patterns. 
Yancy Cravat, Miss Ferber's protagonist, was the ideal 
Western hero. The first half of the picture was the thrilling 
story of his exploits in subduing lawlessness and trans- 
forming the wilderness, until finally the town of Osage has 
become too tame and he is ready to move on. It was at this 
point that the picture divided in two. Yancy's wife, Sabra, 
stepped into the foreground and became the principal 
character. For Sabra refuses to leave Osage. While we 
have been watching her husband's picturesque adventures, 
she has been building security for herself and her children. 
Through her anti-liquor, anti-vice, beautify-the-city cam- 
paigns, Osage had become the modern American town, 
founded on feminine values. 

Miss Ferber's picture of the transition from masculine to 
feminine America was exact, and its conclusions ineluctable. 
But the points made in its analysis were lost on both its 
audiences and Hollywood. As a popular picture, its power 
lay in the fact that it transported audiences back to the 
days of freedom, not in its exposition of why that freedom 

447 



THE FILM SINCE THEN 

had vanished. Cimarron, the American cinema's one 
accurate study of social history, exerted little influence. 
Other pictures of the pioneer past made before the 
onslaught of Decency were merely nostalgic. The World 
Changes (1933) and The World Moves On (1934), (both 
titles were misnomers), set the sturdy past against the 
degenerate present, and argued that all will come right 
again if only we return to the old ways. The influence of 
depression psychology on these films was marked. Their 
glorification of the 'American way* was frenetic; they 
ended in doubt. Intended to be reassuring, they seemed 
instead a tinny whistling in the dark. 

Indeed, American history raised too many problems to 
be acceptable to the spirit of Confidence. The escapist 
tendency which followed Decency found a more fertile field 
in the idealism of ' classic ' nineteenth-century literature. 
The early depression years had witnessed the success of 
such simple tear-jerkers as Daddy Long Legs (1931), East 
Lynne (1931), Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1932) and 
Smilin' Through (1932). Their success, and the triumphant 
popularity of Katharine Hepburn's Little Women (1933), 
enabled the Legion of Decency to point out that the public 
obviously did want ' good ' films. Hollywood was impressed 
by the box-office backing for this argument, and producers 
began to ransack nineteenth-century writing for counter- 
parts of Mrs. Alcott. They made a great discovery. They 
found Dickens. 

Dickens, and after him Barrie, overran Hollywood. 
David Copperfield (1934), The Mystery of Edwin Drood 
(1934), Great Expectations (1935), The Little Minister 
(1934), What Every Woman Knows (1935), and Quality 
Street (1937) transported audiences out of harsh America 
into England — not the England of documentary films, but 
England as upper-class Americans wanted to believe it still 
existed, a right, tight land, a cosy land where all's warm 
and happy and Mother Britannia knows best. While British 
producers were fabricating Chu Chin Chow and Jeiv Si'iss, 
Hollywood was proving that England's all right, even in 

448 




ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT, directed by Lewis Milestone. 
Lew Ayres, Raymond Griffith. [American, 1929-30] 




LITTLE CAESAR, directed by Mervyn Le Roy. Edward G. Robinson, 
Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. [American, 1930] 



THE AMERICAN FILM 

her colonial policy, with Clive of India (1935) and The 
Lives of a Bengal Lancer (1935). 

Censored history and the winnowed literature of 
capitalism's great period pacified the middle-class and 
brought it back into the theatres. The escapist trend made 
the screen respectable in the eyes of those who have always 
a little feared it, and it enabled the Hays Organisation to 
issue pronouncements on progress. But the escape it pro- 
vided had no solid basis in either creative impulse or 
audience demand. The Decency fervour and its by-products 
were a transient interruption of the reflexive process by 
which the film-story approximates ever more closely the 
agitations of the popular mind. 



The great majority of American intellectuals, already 
left-wing in spirit, saw in the Roosevelt administration a 
partial fulfilment of their hopes. At the other end of the 
scale, the enormously increased number of the under- 
privileged and the dispossessed instinctively followed the 
man who promised them escape from the economic trap. 
These two extremes formed, during the thirties, the major 
portion of the left-wing of American political thought, in 
which individual differences were to some degree sub- 
merged in united support of the New Deal. Over against 
them lay the middle-class, professionals, business men and 
that vast group of office workers whose sense of property 
had not been destroyed by the depression. Although this 
class must be termed conservative in contrast with the left- 
wing, its ideas were confused and uncertain. It had no 
love for the status quo, it was profoundly uneasy about the 
New Deal's programme, and it had no programme of its 
own. It stood for the preservation of values already lost. 

Chiefly the spirit of the middle-class took the form of 
inchoate opposition to the experiments of the administra- 
tion. But on the articulate levels it endeavoured to formu- 
late a policy. Many of America's most popular writers 
have never merged with the nation's intellectual groups. 

449 29 



THE FILM SINCE THEN 

Coming to the city from farms and small towns, they have 
retained the values and viewpoint of the middle-class. 
Their ideal is discovered in what corresponds to the 
Edwardian period in England, the first tender years of the 
new century, when America was still a great small town. 
It was in their eyes an epoch of invention, of ' healthy 
competition ', of progress, of humanitarian reform. Above 
all, it was thought of as an era of good feeling in which the 
* classes ' were hardly conscious of their identities. It was 
the individual who counted, who made his own way in the 
world and, feeling pity for those less strong and assertive 
than himself, helped his unfortunate fellows. It was this 
individual feeling of kindliness which popular writers — 
Clarence Budington Kelland, Struthers Burt, Damon 
Runyon, Isabel Paterson, Rose Wilder Lane — considered 
the element missing from contemporary life. By its revival, 
they thought, the world of the day-be fore-yesterday could 
be restored. 

Such was the fantasy of goodzvill created by middle- 
class writers and principally enunciated in The Saturday 
Evening Post, a magazine patently dedicated to the interests 
of big business. The principle found film embodiment 
through picturisation of stories by the Post's most popular 
authors, and, on the screen, found its natural exponent in 
Frank Capra, considered by many to be the most capable 
director developed by the talkies. 

Capra won his spurs directing rough-and-ready melo- 
dramas in the days when his studio, Columbia, was still 
struggling toward size and importance. The economy and 
forcefulncss of his cinematography bear the marks of this 
training, but his claim to significant popularity lies in a 
temperamental affinity to the middle-class outlook. Coming 
to America from Sicily as a boy, he seems to have 
absorbed its psychological atmosphere the more completely 
because he looks on it with an objective, therefore a visual, 
eye. This ability to express ideas in terms saturated with 
emotional associations has enabled him to give its appro- 
priate form to the fantasy of goodwill 

450 



THE AMERICAN FILM 

Capra's first highly succesful film was Lady for a Day 
(1933), based on Damon Runyon, in which a hard-boiled 
gangster raises wretched Apple Annie to affluence so that 
she may appear respectable to her long-lost daughter. It 
was not made clear whether the old woman goes back to her 
street-corner after her daughter leaves, but no one asked 
questions because the picture was so obviously a fairy-tale. 
What gave it importance beyond customary fantasy was 
the milieu, which was that of contemporary life. And 
that was made logical by the implicit suggestion that public 
enemies are just little boys at heart, who will do any one a 
good turn when fate lets them. 

This feeling achieved the status of an idea in Capra's 
most famous film Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), adapted 
from Clarence Budington Kelland's Saturday Evening Post 
serial. Its setting was the Broadway of the topical films; 
its characters cynical, merciless, governed by gangster 
morality. They, too, were once young and ardent, but they 
have come too far, lost their virginity, sold their birth- 
right for success. What they fear most is sincere emotion, 
for it reminds them of what they have lost. Perforce they 
laugh at Longfellow Deeds with his naive greeting-card 
poetry, his honesty, his deep content. To them he is an 
incredible anachronism. He is, apparently, meat for their 
exploitation, just another hayseed to be given the time- 
honoured runaround, and they are only following the 
appropriate formula when they tempt him to use his wealth, 
to cut himself off from the kind of life to which he was 
born. But Mr. Deeds, unexpectedly, is not tempted. Wealth 
to him is something to share, and after his disillusionment 
with his slick advisers, he uses it to give homeless farmers 
and labourers a chance to set up for themselves. Through 
this consistency, he triumphs. For the Broadwayites are 
eventually moved by him. In his life they see what theirs 
might have been. And since they are really men of good- 
will at heart, they end by applauding his rejection of the 
metropolis and all that it stands for. 

The thesis of this sentimental comedy was welcomed by 

451 



THE FILM SINCE THEN 

huge sections of the American public. What need for the 
social reorganisation proposed by the New Deal if pros- 
perity and peace could be recovered by the redemption of 
the individual? This idea, absolving the middle-classes 
from realistic thinking about the forces which governed 
their lives, has proved perennially popular. The stalemate 
implicit in it is indicated by Capra's subsequent work, all 
of which continues to exemplify the fantasy of goodwill. 
With the exception of the pretentious Lost Horizon (1938) 
and the farcical Arsenic and Old Lace (1944), each of his 
films has used an American social, political, or economic 
problem as its springboard. You Can't Take It With You 

(1938) inveighed against the influence of foreign 'isms'. 
The significantly titled Mr. Smith Goes to Washington 

(1939) probed the corruption of national politics. Most 
ambitious and daring, Meet John Doe (1941) examined the 
seedbeds of fascism in the United States. It's a Wonderful 
Life (1947) was a vivid portrayal of dog-eat-dog methods 
in small-town business. 

Capra depicted each of these situations with striking 
naturalism. Characters, events, and atmosphere were 
recognisable to, and within the experience of, every 
American. The solutions provided were always fantastic. 
In each film, a messianic innocent, not unlike the classic 
simpletons of literature, 1 pits himself against the forces of 
entrenched greed. His inexperience defeats him strategi- 
cally, but his gallant integrity in the face of temptation calls 
forth the goodwill of the ' little people ', and through their 
combined protest, he triumphs. Nothing could be further 
removed from the actual experience of American audiences 
than that triumph, and nothing could have suited them 
better. Such a blend of realistic problem and imaginary 
solution epitomised the dilemma of the middle-class mind 
in the New Deal period. As I wrote in 1939 of Mr. Smith 
Goes to Washington : ' Its significance, it seems to me, lies 
not in its truth or falsity but in its persistence as an idea 

1 And closely akin to the silent film character created by Harry 
Langdon, whose pictures Capra directed at the beginning of his career. 

452 



E PRJOE OF MANDRAKE F&l 



uWli 



S *X %^' 



MR. DEEDS GOES TO TOWN, directed by Frank Capra. Gary Cooper. 
[American, 1936] 




IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT, directed by Frank Capra. 

Claudette Colbert. [American, 1934] 



Clark Gable, 



THE AMERICAN FILM 

and its popularity with audiences. Individual idealism is 
no solution for any practical problem, but it is the totem 
people worship when every other way out cuts across their 
thinking habits. A film which embodies this phenomenon 
enjoys, to my mind, an importance beyond itself. It is to 
be evaluated less as a mirror of life than as a document of 
human psychology, an index to the temper of the popular 
mind. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is such a film, and 
the classic example of its type/ 

Capra's panacea for mental strife was not available to 
everyone. Settled, middle-aged people might dream of a 
solution through Christian brotherhood, but the younger 
generations found it harder to believe in. The individualist 
tradition had been too profoundly shaken .by the depression 
to offer them real hope. ' The loss of credibility in former 
values ', writes Lewis Jacobs, ' the breakdown of the smug- 
ness and self-confidence of the jazz era, the growing 
bewilderment and dissatisfaction in a " crazy " world that 
does not make sense, has been reflected in a revival of 
comedies of satire and self-ridicule . . . epitomised, per- 
haps, in the title of one of them : Nothing Sacred/ l This 
cycle, known as the screwball comedy, began with 
Capra's It Happened One Night (1934) and especially with 
the equally successful The Thin Man (1934). The flip 
insouciance of this picture seemed at first glance a part of 
pre-Decency cynicism. But the aimless lives of the pro- 
tagonists are redeemed by gaiety and goodwill ; they atone 
for all shortcomings by being kind and charming. Above 
all, they find in marriage an adventure which blots out the 
insufficiency of the world outside it. Subsequent films in 
the cycle — the best known were My Man Godfrey (1936), 
The Awful Truth (1937), and My Favourite Wife (1937) 
— continued to emphasise escape from a meaningless 
existence into an imaginary world dominated by personal 
relationships. * Emblematic of this new regard for the 
" wacky " ', continues Mr. Jacobs, ' are new hero and 

1 The Rise of the American FUm, Lewis Jacobs, (Harcourt Brace, 
1939), p. 535. 

453 



THE FILM SINCE THEN 

heroine types. Among the women, Carole Lombard is the 
most outstanding in her " screw-ball " activity. Beautiful, 
frustrated, she asserts intense dissatisfaction with existing 
conventions and deep bewilderment in seeking justification 
of her desires. . . . Among the men, perhaps the most 
representative of the rebels are Fred MacMurray, Cary 
Grant, and Melvyn Douglas. These men are seekers of one 
sort or another; they point to maladjustments by pre- 
tending with childlike simplicity that they do not exist. 
They enter into conspiracies with themselves or comrades, 
telling long stories or building up long situations which are 
unconventional but which seem right . . / Beginning with 
The Thin Man, the heroes and heroines of most of these 
films are married. Only in the private world of marriage 
can they construct the phantasies which substitute for a 
meaningful relation to the world. 



Though the escapist film cycles which followed Decency 
have continued successfully through the pre-war and war 
years, they have not monopolised the screen. Side by side 
with the public which sought release in fantasy there existed, 
or grew up, an audience for the realistic dramatisation of 
social problems. The influence of the depression, the leader- 
ship of Roosevelt, the controversy over the New Deal, the 
rise of documentary journalism, all the forces of a period of 
tension had made this inevitable. Labour disputes, stan- 
dards of living, abuse of power, were after all no longer 
outrageous topics for public discussion. They were phrases 
on everyone's lips, and because of their value as news the 
screen could treat them in the category of the topical 
film, with an assurance of public support that would have 
been lacking before the depression. 

The topical films of the early depression days were, it 
will be remembered, entirely negative in their criticism of 
American life. The new cycle added idealism to criticism. 
These films were made in the reformist spirit of the New 
Deal itself. Warner Brothers, through their long experience 

454 



THE AMERICAN FILM 

with topical and gangster -films, took an easy lead over other 
studios in developing this cycle, and they appear to have 
done so consciously; for many years the company slogan 
was ' Good films — good citizenship \ l These ambitious 
producers gathered round them a team of writers and 
directors who were both trained technicians and earnest 
intellectuals, eager to put their mastery of a mass-medium 
at the service of social enlightenment. Conscientiously they 
set themselves the problem of dramatising public issues 
within the limits of what the box-office said was popular 
entertainment. The result was an extremely remarkable 
series of films which came closer to the American scene as 
the majority experienced it than films had done since the 
early days, when their audience consisted exclusively of the 
poor and humble. Black Fury (1935) considered a strike 
in a coal-mining town, of all milieus, and showed it being 
broken by goons hired by the mine-owners. Black Legion 
(1937), taking its theme from contemporary headlines, 
showed the operations of a secret society, decked out with 
all the paraphernalia appropriate to the Ku Klux Klan, 
which had as its veiled purpose the intimidation of labour 
unions. They Won't Forget (1937) was an outspoken 
indictment of lynching in the South. Angels with Dirty 
Faces (1938), High Sierra (1939), City for Conquest 
(1940), and The Roaring Twenties (1939) revived the 
gangster cycle but focussed on the social sources of crime. 
When called upon to voice blame for the social evils they 
depicted, these films saved themselves from censorship and 
pressure groups by employing dummy scapegoats, and by 
treating a general problem as though it were an isolated 
case. In Black Fury, the well-meaning employers are- 
ignorant of the fact that they have hired strike-breakers. 
What the films had to say nevertheless came through. 
Writing construction was their secret. Each began with a 
long, carefully-documented opening which set the stage so 

1 It is hard to reconcile this policy and its products with Mr. Jack 
Warner's evidence at the Committee on Un-American Activities, 
Washington, November, 1947. Vide: Hollywood on Trial, Gordon 
Kahn, (Boni and Gaer, 1948). 

455 



THE FILM SINCE THEN 

carefully that the spectator, if he knew anything of Ameri- 
can life, could not avoid drawing the logical inferences, no 
matter the phoneyness of the ending. All that had been 
learned about the making of sound films was employed to 
force audiences to recognise this scene as their scene, and 
these problems as their problems. As intelligent as the 
novels and plays by which they were influenced, and far 
more vivid, these films were the real social literature of 
their period. 

None of them was so sensationally successful, as box- 
office or as propaganda, as to cause a stampede in the 
direction of the social film, but they exerted deep influence 
on the content and technique of Hollywood production. 
Directors and writers at other studios, belatedly reaching 
intellectual maturity, wanted to show that they, too, like 
Warner's, could make good films in the service of good 
citizenship. Norman Krasna's and Fritz Lang's Fury 
(1936) attacked lynching even more savagely and success- 
fully than did its successor, They Won't Forget. Lang's 
You Only Live Once (1937) and You and Me (1938) 
reminded the public, as did William K. Howard's Mary 
Burns, Fugitive (1935), that the constabulary of the United 
States, frustrated by the inadequacy of law in the face of 
organised racketeering, were now using extra-legal means 
to capture criminals, and that in doing so they frequently 
punished the innocent with the guilty. Samuel Goldwyn 
solemnly contemplated housing problems in Dead End 
(1937). The South, contemporaneously characterised by 
President Roosevelt as ' the nation's Number One economic 
problem', came in for analysis in The Toy Wife (1938), 
Jezebel (1938 — a Warner film), and Jean Renoir's recent 
The Southerner (1945), not forgetting those earlier studies 
in decay, Coquette (1929) and The Story of Temple Drake 
(1933). John Ford's The Grapes of Wrath (1940) and 
Lewis Milestone's Of Mice and Men (1940) capitalised on 
the popularity of Steinbeck's books to challenge the con- 
science of a nation that had allowed its human and material 
resources to be impoverished by greed and planlessness. 

456 



IJ1 1 



SGARFACE, directed by Howard Hawks. George Raft, Paul Muni. [American, 1932] 




GRIME WITHOUT PASSION, directed by Hecht and MacArthur. 
Claude Rains, Margo. [American, 1934] 




SHE DONE HIM WRONG, directed by Lowell Sherman. Mae West, 
Rafaela Ottiano. [American, 1933] 




A NIGHT AT THE OPERA. The Marx Brothers. [American, 1935] 



THE AMERICAN FILM 

And while they were disinfecting these social sores, Holly- 
wood's crusading craftsmen endeavoured to formulate a 
positive approach.. Direct support of the New Deal on the 
screen was impossible, but tribute to the generalised spirit 
of modern democracy was impregnable to pressure-group 
attack. 

In this approach, too, the Warner studio took the lead. 
A series of biographical films, usually starring Paul Muni or 
Edward G. Robinson, (The Story of Louis Pasteur, 1936; 
The Life of Emile Zola, 1937; Juarez, 1939; Dr. Ehrlich's 
Magic Bullet, 1940; Renter's, 1941) dramatised the contri- 
butions to democratic life of healers, research scientists, 
newspapermen, and humble revolutionaries. Laid in the 
past, smelling a bit of the lamp, these films were none the 
less earnest and vigorous attempts to convince the electorate 
of the possibility of a rational society based on science and 
education. They held their own at the box-office with 
purely commercially-inspired films, and conferred sufficient 
prestige upon Warner's and the Industy at large to warrant 
their continuance. Their most important effect, like that 
of the films which criticised American life, was gradually 
to accustom both audiences and movie-makers to the idea 
that the screen could legitimately take its place beside the 
printing-press as a channel for the discussion of public 
issues. 

Writing at the end of the first decade of the talkies, Lewis 
Jacobs concluded his The Rise of the American Film with 
these words : ' The graveness of the past ten years has 
seen the content of movies take on a more serious tone. A 
depression-hit America has focussed the movies' attention 
upon social corruption, economic discrepancies, political 
maladjustments, and has started a search for a code of 
personal and social values that will not rest entirely on sex 
and affluence.' l The trend toward realism in the narrative 
film was quickened after 1936 by two other factors, not 
unrelated; the rise of the documentary film and the 
increasing threat of war from the fascist powers. 

x p. 538. 

457 



THE FILM SINCE THEM 

Although the documentary film as a movement began in 
Britain as early as 1929, and was firmly established by the 
early thirties, it did not take root in the United States until 
the middle of the decade. Isolated individuals and groups 
did attempt to make documentaries, but under Soviet rather 
than British influence, and the ' agit-prop ' methods used 
struck little response in the large American public. 

Then the March of Time, in 1934, with its ' new kind 
of pictorial journalism ', blended newsreel material with 
staged scenes to interpret the background of news events. 
Two years later, in 1936, Pare Lorentz, a movie critic 
without previous technical experience, produced The Plow 
that Broke the Plains under New Deal sponsorship. 
Influenced in its methods by both British and Russian 
examples, the material of this film about the Dust Bowl was 
sufficiently ' American ' to enlist the sympathies of 
audiences hitherto unfamiliar with the direct dramatisation 
of factual material. His second film, The River (1937), 
produced for the Farm Security Administration, attracted 
national attention with its Whitmanesque commentary and 
the timeliness of its appeal for flood control and soil 
conservation. The documentary film had arrived ; Lorentz 
was suddenly a great man. But where were his films, and 
others like them, to achieve future sponsorship and distri- 
bution? Hollywood-conditioned in spite of themselves, the 
documentary film-makers at first sought to retrieve their 
production costs in the customary manner through theatre 
distribution. But the Industry was indifferent, if not 
hostile, to this new kind of film and potential competitor. 
The March of Time had had to fight its way into the 
theatres, and it is said that The River achieved national 
distribution only through polite pressure from the govern- 
ment agency for which it was produced. It was clear that 
the documentarians would have to follow the example of 
Britain and obtain finance from government, business, or 
educational institutions — and accept the limitations of 
purpose which such sponsorship imposed. Lorentz suc- 
ceeded in persuading the Roosevelt administration to set up 

458 



THE AMERICAN FILM 

a U.S. Film Service which would produce films propa- 
gandising the policies of all departments of the Government. 
He gathered round him such major talents as Robert J. 
Flaherty, inventor of the documentary approach, and Joris 
Ivens, the Dutch documentarian at that time in the United 
States, and for the moment it looked as though he had 
established a base of operations for documentary com- 
parable to that created by John Grierson and others in 
Britain. 

The first films augured well : Lorentz's The Fight for 
Life (1939), and Ivens' Power and the Land (1940), 
achieved the theatres, and both advanced that blend of 
factual observation and dramatic const